Preventing tricky tourist activities from discrediting Vietnam’s tourism

Monday - 27/05/2019 14:04
A trip on a junk boat littered with rat droppings, with a broken toilet, and mouldy bread for breakfast were parts of an unpleasant experience that a female Australian tourist shared in a Facebook post after a two-day tour in early May to a place which was supposed to be Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.

In her post, she recalled that she and her group of friends paid US$100 per person for the tour with a local travel agent in Hanoi after being shown a glossy brochure depicting a journey on a beautiful cruise ship.

However, contrary to the ads, the group was escorted to a junk boat with a dilapidated interior and bad services, turning their tourist experience into an absolutely horrific nightmare. When she complained to the travel agency, the group received a US$30 refund to share between the six of them.

But what is more of greater concern is that her complaints were republished on Australian news sites, generating a huge number of views and comments. Many people have shown concern about the quality of tourism services in Vietnam and questioned whether or not they should visit or return to Vietnam.

The incident has brought discredit to Vietnam’s hospitality sector in the eyes of foreign visitors.

Soon after being notified of the case, Quang Ninh provincial People’s Committee directed an inspection and verification process, and a document was issued on May 21, confirming that cruise ship used to operate in Ha Long Bay in the past but it had been banned from the bay since August 2017 and moved to nearby waters in the neighbouring Hai Phong City.

At the same time, representatives from the People’s Committee of Ha Long city in Quang Ninh province reaffirmed that their revisions showed no cruise ship in Ha Long with such poor facilities and services as reported by the Australian tourist.

The announcements partly showed the dishonest advertising information of the travel agent as well as a flaw in the management of tourist activities by local authorities, which has consequently allowed the operation of downgraded cruise ships.

Although the investigation concluded that the Australian tourist’s bad experience did not happen in Ha Long Bay, Ha Long city’s tourism sector forcefully and unexpectedly became the victim of the dishonest operations of a Vietnamese travel agent.

Therefore, when the Australian tourist’s story was published in English on foreign news pages, the reputation of UNESCO-recognised Ha Long Bay and Vietnam’s tourism image in general was significantly damaged.

On the afternoon of May 21, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) sent an order to the Hai Phong city People’s Committee, requesting the city’s functional agencies to strictly handle the business which provided the poor and misleading service for the Australian group of visitors, and suspend its operations if necessary. The ship owner was asked to apologise and compensate the tourists.

The order also asked tourist businesses to abide by the applicable regulations in ensuring the quality of their services.

Although the actions were taken swiftly and properly, the incident also served as a lesson for Vietnam’s tourism sector. Relevant sectors and departments cannot wait for an incident to occur before fixing the current flaw in their management of tourist activities.

Stronger and stricter handling of violations and shady operations of tourist businesses and travel agents as well as tighter management and supervision of local authorities and functional tourism agencies are needed in a joint effort to turn tourism into a key economic sector and raise Vietnam’s position on the world’s travel map.

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