UNWTO’s effort to support rural development through tourism birthed the Best Tourism Villages initiative in 2021. Of the 70 tourism villages inducted into this stringent programme so far, 14 are in Asia. Karen Yue spots six that you can support through your tours
Dazhai, China, inducted 2022
Dazhai village in a mountainous part of northern Guangxi, China has developed a tourism forte built upon its thousand-year terrace farming culture and Red Yao ethnic community.
Visitors are able to learn how the village, which dates back more than 2,300 years, turned its barren hillsides into terraced farmland through informative sessions on traditional farming and wetland science, and participation in farming activities such as ploughing, harvesting and rice drying.
There is also an opportunity to join in ethnic cultural experience activities such as Red Yao embroidery dances and traditional festivals.
Kampung Batu Puteh, Malaysia, inducted 2021
After 40 years of having its rainforests chopped down by large companies in search of logs, Batu Puteh in Sabah, Malaysia finally gained a new lease on life in 1996. The government created a small protected Forest Reserve around the village while a group of local youths took it upon themselves to create avenues for sustainable income from tourism while conserving their traditions and protecting the remaining forest ecosystem.
Their effort resulted in five key products and four tourism associations across the village by 2020. In 2003, the village tourism associations joined forces to establish the Community Cooperative KOPEL, with the goal of training and building local capacity to conserve the surrounding ecosystem and local culture while generating income for the community through a variety of tourism products and activities.
Visitors to Batu Puteh can participate in tree planting and forest restoration works, spot local wildlife in the rainforests, and stay with local host families as part of the Village Homestay Program, which drives tourism dollars into the pockets of village residents.
Nglanggeran, Indonesia, inducted 2021
The people of Nglanggeran village, located 25km from Yogyakarta city in Indonesia, have pooled the best of their resources – its natural landscape and expertise of its resident farmers, plantation workers and ranchers – to create a community-based tourism product.
Nglanggeran is home to Gunung Api Purba, an ancient volcano that is also part of the UNESCO Global Geopark of Mount Sewu. Visitors can trek up the volcano to study its geological formation and take in the picturesque views.
Its population supports local homestays, providing visitors with an authentic stay in the countryside where they can experience an etawa goat farm, learn about chocolate processing, hand-painted batik and traditional way of life, among others.
Its youths are also very much involved in tourism activities, leading to stronger buy-ins from the community and support of new initiatives.
Even as tourism develops here, contributing to other sectors like cocoa production, it does not replace existing occupations in agriculture, craftsmanship, and others, ensuring resilience in times of crisis.
Purple Island, South Korea, inducted 2021
South Korea’s Purple Island is over 1,000 years old and recognised for its natural wonders – it is designated a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and home to the Shinandadohae Biosphere Reserve, which comprises the Shinandadohae National Park and the Korean Mudflats Provincial Park.
Its birth as a tourism destination in 2015 was led by the aging residents of Banwol and Bakji islands, who were determined to save their villages. They built the Purple Bridge, painted their houses purple, and planted Asta chrysanthemums, magnolia lilies and lavender – all to ensure Purple Island is in full bloom all year round.
Visitors can appreciate a wide diversity of nature and culture, from learning how its traditional fishing heritage is preserved, exploring the Banwol Village Dang Forest, to walking the 1,462m Purple Bridge that connects the two islands.
India’s Pochampally village has been able to develop a tourism concept upon its reputation as the cradle of ikat hand-woven products and home to more than 10,000 skilled weaving families who have been maintaining traditional techniques for centuries.
The government of Andhra Pradesh launched the Pochampally Rural Tourism Project in 2007 to attract tourism keen on learning about its traditional weaving artistry.
The village also partnered with Microsoft and Chaitanya Bharti, a non-profit organisation, to develop a value chain and integrate it with the tourism industry. Skill development programmes, digital literacy initiatives, and support from various governmental and non-governmental organisations have created more and better quality jobs.
Thai Hai, Vietnam,
Four generations of Tay community reside in this UNESCO cultural heritage village, preserving their traditional culture, including language, customs, rituals, ceremonies and attire that now provide a precious insight for visiting travellers.
Visitors can join in traditional spiritual festivals, during which villagers, armed with specific cultural knowledge and language skills, act as tour guides; experience a homestay in a traditional stilts house; and learn about Thai Hai’s Vuon Ao Chuong Integrated Farming Systems as well as its practice of having each household specialising in unique products, such as traditional cakes and handicrafts, to ensure quality and diversity.