Where’s the love?

Community-based tourism activities can make a corporate event more rewarding, both for the attendees and host community. But why are corporates eschewing this opportunity?

While community-based tourism (CBT) is catching on with seasoned travellers, educational institutions and religious groups, few corporate events include CBT. Corporate retreats and teambuilding could do with some local interaction, and for a good cause. Yet while several DMCs handle business events and run special interest and eco-tours, few cross-market them.

Event planners may not be aware of the possibilities, or think it is just too difficult.
“It could be the lack of modern comforts/gadgets together with long hours of travelling (by bus to get to the site),” opined Jeff Redl, managing director, Diethelm Travel Vietnam.

“Also, incentive travel is mainly to celebrate participants’ achievements, share best practices, and indulge in a little well-deserved fun.”

But the investment in bringing CBT elements into a corporate programme has clear benefits.

Redl said: “CBT protects and promotes natural and cultural heritage. It contributes to restoring and developing traditional cultural values and crafts, including the protection of natural resources and the environment.”

And CBT can be fun too, such as by including in the programme a spot of hiking, trekking and cycling, or an opportunity for encounters with locals to get an insight into their way of life.

EXO Travel Vietnam’s MICE/events manager, Lise Papay Jurgens, suggested that companies could, for a start, provide gifts for guests made by social enterprises and responsible suppliers.

She added that only about 2.5 per cent of EXO Travel Vietnam’s enquiries per year have a CSR request. Activities include medical consultations in remote villages in or around Sapa, renovation of schools and houses for disadvantaged people in the Mekong, and teambuilding with games to raise money for associations they like.

Where’s ripe for CBT pickings?
Indochina offers a wide variety of CBT options that are actively promoted by provincial destination marketing organisations and DMCs. Travelife-certified DMCs proactively advocate sustainable tourism.

ASIA DMC, for instance, includes an idea of CBT experiences with each proposal. Group managing director Linh Le said: “Our HG Foundation supports a primary school in Luang Prabang; reforestation at Ba Be National Park; Cat Tien National Park and Viet Hai village – a long-term, financial support project coordinated with Bhaya Cruise Lines.

“Each of these can be included as either a full-day or an overnight experience for corporate groups.”

A half-day, leisurely cycle outside Siem Reap, Cambodia includes tree planting in Preah Dak village and preparing lunch with residents.

“CBT programme organisers must seek out more and off-road sites to keep the support fair and equal across locations,” remarked Le.

Luang Prabang tour itineraries often include social enterprises such as arts and crafts centres. Rice farms can be visited in half a day. EXO Travel Laos cooperates with Luang Prabang’s Pha Tad Ke botanical garden and Kamu Lodge, next to Kamu Village, for customised itineraries.

Do good in comfort
It is a myth that CBT-led corporate programmes are confined to remote parts of a destination where technology and modern comforts don’t touch. On the Indonesian resort islands of Batam and Bintan, there are opportunities for a rainforest trek led by local rangers or visits to fishing villages and traditional crafts that are within reach of hotels and resorts.

Altruistic corporates are now doing good indoors. A foreign bank held a three-day/two-night teambuilding exercise for 100 Singapore-based staff at Bintan Lagoon Resort in April. One activity involved assembling bicycles. Parts were brought in from Singapore and participants worked in groups to assemble 19 bicycles which were then donated to a Bintan orphanage.

Fullerton Markets’ annual company retreat in Batam in January saw staff building bicycles as part of a team bonding exercise. K S Tan, its director of operations, said the assembled products were donated to the children of Vistos Kasih Ikhlas & Al Fateh Orphanage.

Source of demand
DMCs say companies from Europe and Australia tend to be more supportive of CBT. Sectors include medical, legal, ICT and banking. Diethelm sees many expatriates in Vietnam involved individually or through their companies. Large local companies and state organisations also support CBT.

Duangmala Phommavong, managing director, EXO Travel Laos, said: “Good products are everywhere but not well communicated. They also lack marketing and promotion on a common platform.”

But change may be imminent if trade and corporate delegates who attended the Village Experience of the Mekong Tourism Forum in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand in June choose to spread the word. It was the first conference to stage thematic sessions in eight ethnic villages, engaging delegates and villagers in a uniquely immersive and transformative experience.

“Delegates loved the new concept, and even some of our hardest critics said it was the best conference session they’ve ever attended,” said Jens Thraenhart, executive director, Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.

So if DMCs do more to promote CBT options and corporates widen their scope, participants and local communities could both benefit from the exchange.

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