Vietnam metro's plan to alienate illegal travel firms raises doubts

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 Customers buy tours at a travel company in Ho Chi Minh City / PHOTO: DIEP DUC MINH

Ho Chi Minh City tourism authorities want to draw a line between legal and illegal travel companies with visible signboards, but experts say the initiative is hardly practical.

The HCMC Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism has proposed that authorities require local travel companies to hang department-authorized signboards which indicate their legality at their entrances.

The signboards will help people recognize and stay away from illegal companies, according to the department.

However, experts said the proposal, if approved, will cause troubles for inbound companies.

The director of a major travel firm in HCMC told Thanh Nien that under current laws, a company has to acquire a business license from the Department of Planning and Investment in order to operate inbound tours.

Then it must register with the tourism department (the registration takes effects immediately once the company files complete documents) instead of applying for another license from the department as was previously the case, he said.

Vietnamese authorities introduced the simplified procedures in 2001 in an attempt to cut red tape.

But, the proposal means that to get the authorized signboards, inbound businesses will have to apply for an additional license from the tourism department, according to the director, who asked to stay unnamed.

Meanwhile, Phan Dinh Hue, director of Viet Circle Travel Company in HCMC, doubted the proposal’s practicability, saying that if a business can operate illegally, it can fake a signboard.

Authorities need to fix the problem by inspecting local companies, not by issuing “an administrative measure,” he said.

Nguyen Van My, director of Lua Viet Travel Company, also criticized the initiative as “impractical,” saying that people cannot tell the difference between an authentic and fake signboard.

He said the department was expecting people to deal with the problem of illegal businesses themselves. But dealing with illegal businesses is the department's responsibility, he said.

He also said that the application process for the signboard could easily result in additional paperwork and corruption.

The idea is also “irksome” because most travel companies already include their license numbers in their signboards or present them at their sales counters, he said.

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According to My, there are many solutions for dealing with illegal travel companies like checking tour guides at border gates, airports and destinations.

But, what matters most is the application of strict punishments for violators, he said.

The tourism department has recently reported that there are 818 authorized travel companies in the city. But figures from the Department of Planning and Investment show licenses have been issued to 18,500 travel businesses.

This means that almost 18,000 companies are either not in operation or are operating without approval from the tourism department.

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