Community Category Finalist
The mountainous region of Sapa in northern Vietnam is regularly voted one of the most picturesque in the whole world. Defined by the terraced rice paddies that shape every hill, and enshrouded in mist for 150 or more days a year, the experience for visiting tourists is quite ethereal.
The reality on the ground is much harder for the Hmong, Dao and other minority tribal groups that make up most of the area's population. This is a very poor area compared even to the rest of Vietnam. The climate and topography may make for great photos, but they also mean that farmers here can only bring in one harvest a year (at sea level they can bring in two). They live subsistence lives, with no ability to save money or develop an income.
Launched in 2007, local travel company Sapa O'Chau is committed to harnessing the rapid growth in tourism in the region to support sustainable development. In 2013 it became Vietnam's first minority-owned tour operator to gain an international license and it remains the only one operating in Sapa. As of 2014, 48 of its 52 staff were from local ethnic minorities.
The company runs its own boarding facility, which supports 35 high school students a year, with 70 of its students having become tour guides so far. It also supports 11 homestays and employs 30 trekking guides. For the many tourists visiting the region, Sapa O‘Chau offers meaningful community run tours, family homestays, a local cafe and a handicraft market selling guaranteed quality, handmade local products. Their thoroughly holistic approach means Sapa O’Chau is enabling travellers to gain the most authentic experience of this region while providing a sustainable income to an ever growing number of minority peoples, and helping them maintain their cultural identity in changing times.