Vietnamese tourism authorities changed the slogan “Vietnam - The Hidden Charm” in 2012 and a deputy prime minister may have inadvertently revealed why.
Vu Duc Dam, speaking to the media, has admitted that unsafe traffic, dirty food and environment, thieves, beggars, and overcharging by vendors have indeed hidden Vietnam’s charm.
Speaking about tourism during a break at the National Assembly Thursday, he admitted there are six things foreign tourists are “very scared” of in Vietnam, but said these can be fixed at little cost.
He said while the country needs a lot more infrastructure to boost tourism, it can first focus on tasks that do not need a lot of money, such as fixing some “haunting” problems.
He said the first problem for tourists in Vietnam is exorbitant prices, which is not just a matter of the pocket but also one that makes tourists feel “disrespected.”
The second problem is traffic, he said. “The traffic in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is very unsafe.”
The third problem is beggars and petty thieves, he said, pointing out that a person on a tour wants to relax and explore nice things. “But when they come to Vietnam, they see beggars or those pretending to be beggars, and the image haunts them, even after they leave.”
He said the authorities can resolve the problem without having to spend a lot of money.
The fourth scare is food safety. Though street foods are one attraction that interests many foreign visitors, many do not feel comfortable seeing sellers pick foods with bare hands, he said.
The hygiene issue leads to the fifth problem, which is poor public sanitation, including littering everywhere and stinky toilets.
“Even at major tourism areas, people are not aware of the need to keep the environment clean.”
The last scary thing, he said, is the lack of hospitality on the part of some locals to foreigners.
Dam said Vietnamese people are generally friendly, but some are not, especially if they are vendors who cannot sell to a foreigner.
“In many places, vendors immediately make a disrespectful face when a foreigner refuses to buy. Though they cannot understand what you say, they can feel it.”
Vietnam has won global praise for beautiful scenes and nice people, but those problems are making it lose tourists to nearby countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, which receive several times more tourists every year, he said.
Thailand earns $60 billion from tourism every year, while for Vietnam it is only around $10 billion, according to official figures.
Dam said all the problems he mentioned are very specific and basically related to lifestyle, which people need to change.
“Only then can we be proud.”