Delinquent travel agents in trouble

QUANG NINH, 24 April 2017: Quang Ninh, one of Vietnam’s most popular provinces for tourism, will crack down on shops that sell souvenirs at exorbitant prices and tour companies that fleece tourists with sub-standard and expensive tours.

Local media quoted the province’s Party Committee secretary, Nguyen Van Doc, saying strict punishment would be imposed on tourist shops and companies that violate the state management regulations on commercial activities.

“The province wants to create favourable conditions for companies to welcome international visitors, including Chinese tourists…Quang Ninh will not tolerate operators who are involved in unfair business activities or fraud.”

The move is part of a campaign to clean up the province’s tourism business environment.

The secretary has called on the local tourism department to take a close look at the operations of travel agencies and has ordered shops to post openly the prices of goods.

Those violating regulations will be fined and their operations suspended, the report said.

Media reports suggested companies were offering very cheap tours to serve Chinese tourists and then gaining a profit through sales at souvenirs that offer a commission or kick-backs. In Thailand, the practice is described as “zero-dollar tourism”, a reference to the initial price of the tour set at breakeven level, or even at a loss with the core revenue earned from shopping commissions.

Since the end of March, Quang Ninh province has suspended four travel agencies for breaking tourism management rules, without identifying their names.

The authorities also imposed fines of VND386 million (USD17,000) on 58 tour guides, closed 16 shops  for selling sub-standard or fake goods to Chinese tourists and punished four others for trade violations.

Media reports claimed Quang Ninh province’s Tourism Department’s tourism inspectors levied 43 fines against travel business this year.

Quang Ninh is home to the World Natural Heritage site of Halong Bay, hundreds of national relic sites and several famous resort cities such as Halong, Van Don, and Mong Cai.

According to the Department of Tourism, Quang Ninh currently has 157 accommodation establishments from one to five-star ratings, along with 47 travel firms and nine beaches for tourists.

The province welcomed 8.3 million tourists in 2016, a 7% increase year-on-year, including 3.5 million foreigners.