Imagine walking through a market in another country. As a tourist, we tend to just browse through the selection and ignore the people trying to sell to us, afraid that if we talk to them we'll have to buy something. Usually the most important task will be trying to get a product for the cheapest price.

Reviewing ideas for merchandising
This last month I, along with Sabrina, were blessed to work in TaPhin with the Red Dao women. This formalized market was recently completed and we were given the opportunity to discover new ways to bring the market alive to attract more tourists. Our work began before we arrived as we took photos of local Vancouver markets to illustrate various ways of merchandising and cooperating.  We had so many ideas running through our heads and wanted to be sure that tourists could feel comfortable in browsing the market AND talking with the locals.
We spent six days meeting and working with the market sellers in both group and one-on-one sessions. I felt that we only scratched the surface of the Red Dao culture and development of a successful market.

Sabrina dressed in traditional Red Dao garments
During our discussion of culture, we generated ideas for improved tourist experiences. We helped the women display their booths in appealing ways, such as creating bamboo hangers in order to display the handicrafts and clothing. For product diversification, we helped each woman see the benefits of placing their differentiating products at the front of their booth, instead of featuring the same products as their neighbour. We expect to see in the near future, as high season approaches, booths filled with teas, fruit and vegetables, and herbal bath products. 

Discussing ideas
Through our discussions, the women began to think of new ways to manage street selling and the hassling of tourists. The most difficult task moving forward is keeping the market full. Many of the women cannot come to sell every day due to other responsibilities in the fields. Also, there are many women who prefer to sell on the streets because this is the way it has always been done. We hope that our efforts and cooperation with the Red Dao women and local government will create a more sustainable and beneficial tourism product for the people of TaPhin. 

The relationships we developed, in such a short time, have impacted our lives in numerous ways. I have already made a promise to myself that I will come back someday. The women have told us that the time we spend to get to know them is very special, as many of the tourists treat them as if they do not exist. 

With Ta May
One of the relationships I created on this trip was with Ta May. I will be working closely with her over the next month because she has taken on a huge responsibility. Ta May told us as we were leaving that she wants to be in charge of the market. She will work each day with the Red Dao women to keep the ideas flowing, in hopes that one day they will be able to stop street selling and have a thriving market. 

The development of a relationship is a two way street. If these women are taking the time to learn how to interact with tourists in a polite and enjoyable way, it is important for tourists to take the time to sit down and talk. If tourists take the time to get to know locals during their travels, they will have a more memorable experience.

I thank Capilano University, the PATA Foundation and our partner in Vietnam Hanoi Open University for the most amazing experience and opportunities.