Stranded Russian tourists to enjoy good hospitality

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Authorities see crisis as opportunity to enhance Vietnam 's tourism reputation


Lanta Tour's Russian tourists at the Bamboo Village Resort in
Binh Thuan Province's Mui Ne resort area. Vietnamese tourism authorities have committed to take good care of the stranded tourists after Lanta Tour one of the biggest tour operators in Russia announced its bankruptcy on January 27. Photo: Que Ha

Vietnamese tourism authorities have committed to doing their best to assist hundreds of Russian tourists stranded in the Mui Ne resort area after a major Russian tourism firm that brought them to Vietnam went bankrupt last week.

Nguyen Anh Tuan of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Travel Department said Minister Hoang Tuan Anh had instructed his department to find solutions for the resorts at Mui Ne where the Russian tourists are staying.

They would have to take good care of Lanta Tour's clients to promote the image of Vietnamese tourism, he said.

About 120 Russian tourists are still stuck in Mui Ne, located in Binh Thuan Province's Phan Thiet Town, after Lanta-Tour Voyage, one of Russia's largest tour operators, declared bankruptcy on January 27 and shut down because of its inability to pay for contracted services.

"Vietnamese authorities from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism are cooperating with the Russian Consulate in HCMC to resolve the situation. They have reached a conclusion that all people in Mui Ne must go to Russia without having to pay double," Sergey Babakhin, head of the consular section at the Russian embassy in Hanoi, told Vietweek on Wednesday.

"By February 8, all tourist clients of Lanta Tour will go to Russia without paying extra. If they would like to stay, they must pay extra," he said.

Earlier, Russian tourists were left behind at the resorts after the staff at Lanta Tour's office in Vietnam Lanta Viet disappeared without an explanation. The tourists learnt about their tour operator's bankruptcy later on the Internet.

The Binh Thuan People's Committee held a meeting Wednesday to discuss solutions to the issue, with the participation of representatives from Vietnam National Administration of Tourism and Lanta Viet director Konstantin Prikhodko.

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At the meeting, Prikhodko rejected accusations that his agency had abandoned their clients. He said he had allowed his employees to leave Phan Thiet Town because "it is not safe to wear the Lanta-Viet uniform in Phan Thiet now."

Asked why he had switched off his cell phone over the past days, he said he had to report the situation to the Russian Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.

Nguyen Van Khoa, Chairman of the Binh Thuan Tourism Association, said the organization has asked the resorts to continue serving the Russian tourists.

"We have also requested Prikhodko to open the office again until the last Lanta Tour's Russian tourist leaves and in order to sign debt notes," he told Vietweek on Wednesday, adding that Prikhodko had accepted the request.

Khoa said the Russian Consulate in HCMC was committed to solving the issue.

Le Ngoc Ha, director of the Hoang Ngoc Resort in Mui Ne, said the resort was hosting 36 Lanta Tour's clients and six of them had left.

"We feel secure after the Russian Consulate in HCMC informed us that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has instructed that Lanta Tour's debt be paid," he said, adding that all the resorts had been serving the stranded Russian tourists as contracted even before any action was taken by Vietnamese tourism authorities.

Nguyen Thanh Tam, deputy chairman of Binh Thuan People's Committee, also said they were committed to taking good care of Lanta Tour clients despite many difficulties caused by the bankruptcy of the Russian tour operator.

"It is not only a professional move in tourism but also based on the traditionally good relationship between the two countries," he said.

The sudden bankruptcy of Lanta Tour Voyage has ruined the holidays of over 3,500 Russian tourists, according to the Pravda newspaper.

The largest group of Russian tourists who have found themselves abandoned abroad was in Thailand with 1,072 people. There were 468 people in India's Goa state, 309 in Vietnam, 250 in the Czech Republic, 146 in France, 135 in Cuba and 112 in the Dominican Republic. The company had sold more than 3,000 tours before mid-February 2012.

According to Itar Tass, the Russian Federal Tourism Agency (Rostourism) has confirmed the arrest of the director of the Thailand office of the bankrupt company.

"There are no details of the arrest, but it is quite likely that the company's office director was arrested because of the office's debts to Thai hotels," said Grigory Sarishvili, Rostourism's special envoy in Thailand.

Lanta Tour has operated for more than 12 years and specialized in organizing trips to Thailand, Vietnam and India.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has asked that the Minister of Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy, Vitaly Mutko, resolve all problems surrounding tourists who are stranded abroad or are facing difficulties because of Lanta-Tour within 24 hours, the Voice of Russia reported on February 1.

The report said that while the company announced the suspension of its activities because of financial problems, Russian state-owned banks were ready to provide the company with operating capital.

HOT SPOT FOR RUSSIAN TOURISTS

Enchanting beaches, inexpensive shopping and cheap alcohol are said to be the main reasons Russian tourists like to visit Vietnam's south-central region over the past several years.

"Thousands of Russian tourists have spent the Lunar New Year in Binh Thuan Province's Mui Ne resorts. Many of them came for the second or third time after finding beautiful beaches and tropical sunshine," said Nguyen Van Khoa, chairman of the Binh Thuan Tourism Association.

"They have come since 2009 when there was a big campaign to promote tourism in the area," he said, adding most Russian tourists arrived via Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport and Khanh Hoa Province's Cam Ranh Airport.

Around 12,000 Russian tourists visited Khanh Hoa Province's Nha Trang Town for the Lunar New Year holiday, twice as many as last year, according to Nguyen Van Thanh, director of the Khanh Hoa Tourism Promotion Center.

 In 2010, the city received around 28,000 visitors. The number climbed to 60,000 in 2011.

"There are lots of Russians coming here - partly to do with the two countries' historical ties, but mainly because for them Vietnam has cheap shopping, cheap alcohol - Russians drink a lot! and good beaches. It is also relatively quick to get to from Russia with direct flights in and out of Hanoi, HCMC and even Nha Trang," said Tim Russell, owner of the HCMC-based tour operator Come & Go Vietnam.

"All they really need is shopping, beaches, bars/restaurants and full-service resorts where they can sleep, sunbathe, eat and drink," he said.

Richard McKenzie, an American expat who has been in Vietnam for eight years, said Nha Trang has changed "rather dramatically with the huge influx of Russian tourists."

"The lighted Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year) signs on the main streets had the greeting in Russian in addition to English. Most of the tourist businesses in the central districts have their larger signs in Russian, some have dropped English all together, and translators are in scarce supply," he told Vietweek.

The influx of Russian tourists has created a serious shortage of translators in south central provinces.

"Several of my Vietnamese friends who own three star hotels in the area told me they were booked solid with Russian tourists but had major problems pleasing them because of the language," McKenzie said.

Khoa said Russian tourism agencies have employed Russian tour guides to cope with the translator shortage. (By An Dien Minh Hung)

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