Which is why, after graduating in the Nordic country, he decided to fill the void. First in northern Europe where he became a successful businessman in many fields and more recently back near his roots - in Quan Lan island to be precise. One of the outer islands of world-famous Ha Long bay, Quan Lan was suffering from neglect.
Visitors who had ventured there complained there was nothing to do, that it was sad and deserted - a bit like the lakes and forests of Finland. Others loved the beaches and the solitude; both have a very different but equally desolate beauty. Mr Quynh, born (in 1980) and raised on the fringes of World Heritage site Ha Long bay, decided Quan Lan had potential and started to realize it.
He takes up the story: “I have a great love for the island. Therefore, I always wanted to do something to benefit the community there. Previously, I studied economics and lived in Finland a long time. I had several different jobs just to make money and gain experience before opening my own business”.
“I came to tourism through the community tourism model at Quan Lan island, with the management of Van Hai Xanh Hotel in Van Don island district, Quang Ninh province. I wanted to create a product that would attract tourists and make them stay longer, but I could not do it alone”.
“Therefore, I started to call for help and encourage people in Quan Lan to get involved in tourism. I wanted to help them improve their lives while retaining the place’s character as a sea island.” It wasn’t easy though.
He says: “In the beginning, we encountered many difficulties and had many unmet needs and complex issues unresolved. The villagers were either fishermen or farmers and they didn’t know anything about tourism. Not even the way to welcome people or the service industry. Besides, the local authorities did not care about tourism, either.”
So he found it was as much of a challenge to get locals to agree as it was to persuade visitors to come. After all, the residents had their time-honoured ways of working the land and sea and it was perfectly understandable that they might not take kindly to an invasion of gawping foreigners. But to a dynamo who was undeterred by linguistic and cultural difficulties in a country as different as Finland, Mr Quynh wasn’t going to let such things deter him. And certainly not on his own doorstep.
“From my own experience,” he recalls, “I shared with villagers, starting with words and smiles, how to get to know visitors. We also called on the Department of Tourism, Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism to have training methods for Quan Lan island. During that time, there were a few ‘bad jokes’ because training villagers in tourism is different from teaching students”.
“Teachers not only taught us theory but also integrated it with practice, indicating the benefits that people get from tourism. And it is the benefits that motivate them to explore, learn and research the products and services”.
At first, only the students came but gradually travel companies began to take an interest in the products we’d created and wanted us to include them in the tour schedule. So now, when coming to Quan Lan, besides going to the scenic places, historic sites and service points, visitors can be more active and spend time with the locals.
I called the program “One day as a fisherman”, “One day as a farmer”, but there are many other activities they can choose such as squid fishing, clam shovelling, crab catching, scavenger hunting or wild goose picking.
“The community tourism model in Quan Lan Island has been developed for over 10 years and the products are becoming more and more diverse. They have brought benefits to people on the island as well as to the service industry.”
Mr Quynh’s initiatives were duly recognised when he was given the responsibility of chairing the Community Tourism Club (CTC) by the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism for Quang Ninh under the Vietnam Tourism Association (VITA). “CTC was established with the purpose of linking tourism enterprises throughout the country. It was also intended for travel agencies to focus on exploiting and supporting community tourism products (including travel tourism, hotels and guesthouses for community tourism),” he says.
Through that it has also raised awareness of the environment, helped ensure the ecology and preserve cultural values. Mr Quynh has been the driving force and will continue to be involved. He says: “I always do my best to make community tourism benefit everyone.” He certainly knows how to fill an empty space.