Vietnam ancient town's leaders apologize for entry ticket crackdown

By Nguyen Tu, Thanh Nien News

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A ticket taker in Hoi An explains entrance fees to a tourist. PHOTO COURTESY OF MOT THE GIOI
Hoi An authorities apologized to tourists on Saturday for their failure to clearly explain their tightened ticket policy and the unfriendly behavior of concession employees which caused outrage during the past ten days.
Visitors have been required to buy tickets to enter Hoi An since 1995. The current rates (VND120,000, or US$6 for foreigners and VND80,000 for Vietnamese) have been in force since 2012.
A ticket allows them to see the town itself and entitles a foreigner to visit five tourist spots and locals, three.
In the past, ticket booths were placed at certain locations, but earlier this month they were put up at every entrance to the town given that more and more tour guides are bringing in clients without buying tickets.
“It’s our fault for failing to predict that the problems [caused by implementing the policy] would stir up public anger in recent days. This gave local and foreign visitors a negative impression of our admission fee collection and badly affected Hoi An’s image,” Nguyen Su, the town's party committee chief, said at a press briefing on Saturday.
“If tourists knew that 85 percent of the collected revenue would go toward the restoration of ancient houses, they'd agree to pay VND80,000 or VND120,000,” said Su.
The committee chief also admitted that guards had blocked entrances and harassed visitors for the fee.
Vo Phung, director of the Hoi An Culture and Sports Center, concurred by saying that tourists were not to blame for the quarrels that broke out with ticket takers.
“It’s our fault for not providing tourists with clear information [about tightened control over entry tickets]. In addition, our employees weren't flexible while facing unexpected issues. Their impolite behavior was caused by our failure to provide clear directions to them and because they receive 3,000-4,000 visitors a day in hot weather,” said Phung.
Phung said he should have announced changes in the town's tourist ticket policy more clearly and publicly.
He said his center had informed travel companies and hotels about the policy before implementation, but hadn't met with them to ensure compliance.
More courteous
Hoi An leaders said they would improve their methods for collecting admission fees.
Local visitors will not be required to pay the fee if they come to the town alone or in a group of no more than four, according to Phung.
“For individual foreign visitors, our staff will tell them to buy tickets in a polite, friendly way. If they don’t know our policy and don’t agree to pay, our staff will invite them to visit the town as it’s our fault for not clearly explaining and publicizing the policy,” said Phung.
For tourist groups, local and foreign alike, staff will require tour guides to buy tickets. The town will “strictly deal with guides evading the fee” as travel companies typically include the fee in tour packages, he said.
Phung said the tightened ticket policy mainly aims to protect tourists who buy packages that include the Hoi An entrance fee but are left to wander the town without visiting guided tourist spots.
Children under 16 will be not charged the fee even when they travel in tourist groups.
Tourists who stay in Hoi An for multiple days need to buy just one ticket, Phung said. They just only to show the ticket stub when returning to town instead of being required to buy another 24-hour ticket as in the past, he said.
Heritage preservation
Su, the town's party unit chief, said the entry fee is needed to raise funds for preservation.
He said Hoi An ancient town is different from other cultural relics like My Son, also in Quang Nam Province, or Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which are closed relics.
As the town includes ancient houses, heritage bridges, historic temples and cultural activities put on by locals, it cannot sell tickets for each relic but a single ticket to everything, Su said.
Apart from tourist spots in the town, visitors can enjoy the performance of ethnic musical instruments and folk songs, or join folk games among a space of colorful lanterns at night.
Su said Hoi An authorities are considering splitting the current ticket into two: one for seeing the town and the other for visiting tourism spots.
He said the town has earned VND255 billion ($12 million) from selling entry tickets since 2000, of which, VND100 billion ($4.7 million) was used to repair damaged houses like the one located at 16 Nguyen Thai Hoc and the home at the corner of Phan Chau Trinh and Tran Phu streets.
Around 57 billion ($2.7 million) was used to fund cultural activities and festivals in the town as well as research on preservation techniques. The remaining money was used to cover operation costs.
Explaining why Hoi An fails to use taxes collected from businesses in the town to restore ancient houses, Su said the tax revenue, VND4.7 billion ($223,000) a year, is not enough.
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