Illegal tour operators take over Nha Trang with dodgy services

By Hien Luong - N.Tran Tam, TN News

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A tour operator's booth in Nha Trang. Photo: Hien Luong A tour operator's booth in Nha Trang. Photo: Hien Luong


The more isn't the merrier when it comes to travel services in Nha Trang.  
One of Vietnam's most popular destinations, the coastal resort town in Khanh Hoa Province  is now having its tourism industry crippled by unauthorized tour operators and guides, forcing several local travel companies to halt some of their operations.
Anex Vietnam, which has the second highest number of Russian clients, has recently announced that it will stop its charter flights between the two countries on May 20.
While the company said the suspension was necessary in the face of steep declines in Russian arrivals, it also blamed the rampancy of illegal tour operators for the difficulties.
According to the company, its main business is bringing Russian tourists into Vietnam, about 12,000 a month, providing them with air tickets and accommodations.
Another source of income is operating local tours in Khanh Hoa Province and to nearby destinations such as Da Lat and Phan Thiet. Each tourist on these trips bring Anex Vietnam US$100. 
However, this additional income has dropped by 60 percent since the end of last year. 
Anex Vietnam's sales manager Nguyen Ngoc Luong said the company cannot compete with illegal and cheap tour operators in Nha Trang, losing a potential income of $720,000 every month. 
Tourists buy cheaper tours from dodgy businesses, and whenever incidents happen, the operators would shorten their itineraries, or worse, abandon them, leaving Anex Vietnam to deal with the consequences, Luong said. 
Hoang Thi Phong Thu, chairwoman of Anh Duong Company, which brings the most Russian tourists to Vietnam under a partnership with Russia's Pegas Touristik, also complained that their business has suffered from illegal tourism services.
She said since her company brings the tourists here, it will always be held responsible, if bad things happen to tourists.
Thanh Nien observed that many unlicensed tour operators establish their "booths," which are nothing but a small desk, along sidewalks around Nha Trang.
Sitting behind these desks are often foreigners, mostly Russian. The tours are offered at suspiciously low prices.
Phan Thanh Truc, vice director of Khanh Hoa's tourism department, said in response to businesses' complaints, officials have inspected 49 travel companies across the town, and found nearly half of them "violating rules."
She did not say how many of them are operating without a license, but confirmed that her department is seeking to expel six foreigners for operating tourism services illegally.
Truc conceded that unauthorized tourism services are being operated on a "big and complicated scale," so local authorities cannot deal with the issue thoroughly overnight.
National problem
Illegal tour operators is a problem of not only Nha Trang, but can be found across Vietnam. 
For years, the top-tier travel companies based in Ho Chi Minh City like Saigontourist, Vietravel and Fiditour have failed to capitalize on the large number of tourists from China, Japan and South Korea, three main markets for Vietnam's tourism industry. 
Most of the tourists of these countries are accompanied by tour operators from their home countries, who would provide them with full packages, including guided trips and accommodations. 
Under Vietnamese laws, foreign companies are not allowed to operate tours within the country, and all tour guides must be Vietnamese nationals.
Phan Dinh Hue, director of Vietcircle, a travel agency in Ho Chi Minh City, told Thanh Nien that illegal domestic tourism services have hurt Vietnamese travel companies -- their rate of return on investment has been reduced by half from the average 10 percent previously.
Moreover, unlicensed businesses do not pay taxes, even though they operate in Vietnam, using local resources, he said.
Hue urged authorities to tighten their control, saying that it is not difficult to discover illegal tour operators or tour guides, and that any raid at tourist destinations will certainly find many.
Statistics from Vietnam National Administration of Tourism showed that more than two million foreign tourists came to visit the country the first quarter this year, down nearly 15 percent from the same period last year.
Chinese accounted for 17.4 percent, the highest, while South Korean and Japanese 15.6 and 8.5 percent, respectively.

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