My prejudice against Thailand's tourism sector has been transformed into admiration after participating in a recent survey of the country's travel industry.
I used to think that Thai tourism authorities were only good at organizing sex tours or shopping trips. But now I know their entire tourism system is a machine superior to most others in the region.
In Thailand, tourism is considered an industry with strict rules and regulations. In Vietnam, it is considered part of the service sector and anyone can open up a travel company and pretty much do whatever they want. That policy makes for a lot of lazy and substandard tour operators.
Vietnam Administration of Tourism only plays a role as a consultant to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, while the Thailand Administration of Tourism (TAT) operates directly under the Prime Minister.
TAT pays the salaries at all city and provincial tourism departments, implements promotional campaigns and provides all major staff positions for the Thailand National Tourism Committee headed by the Prime Minister himself.
The agency also has offices in several countries and the offices perform a variety of useful duties.
The TAT office in Ho Chi Minh City, for example, employs Vietnamese-speaking Thai staff and Thai-speaking Vietnamese staff. They oversee Thai travel firms' operations in HCMC and invite local tour agencies on fact-finding tours. They always cover the entire cost of the tours.
Vietnam has a traditional saying: ââ‚¬Å“Learning from a teacher is not as good as learning from a friend.ââ‚¬
The saying is true because it's not always easy to find a good teacher. But we've got a friend in Thailand in our own backyard. We've been left in the dust as far as the tourism race is concerned, but it's not too late to learn from Thailand and develop Vietnamese tourism beyond the beach and city tours that dominate the travel industry in our country.
By Nguyen Van My*
(*) The writer is director of Lua Viet Tour Company based in Ho Chi Minh City