Vietnam is falling behind its neighbors in preparing for an open market for tourism workers across Southeast Asia that will be established this year under a regional agreement, news website Saigon Times Online has quoted experts as saying.
If the issue continues to be unresolved, hundreds of thousands of workers could lose their jobs when the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Tourism Professionals took effect, allowing certified professionals from other countries to work here, they warned.
Besides, businesses could lose skilled employees to foreign companies, they said.
"It's a very urgent issue," Nguyen Van Luu, former manager of a 2010-15 national project for tourism personnel training, was quoted as saying at a conference last week.
He pointed out that more than 700,000 people work "directly" in the tourism sector but many are yet to be thoroughly prepared for the upcoming competition.
Many lack professional and foreign language skills, he said, citing reports saying that only 60 percent of them could use foreign languages. Of the foreign language speakers, 42 percent speak English but only 15 percent do it fluently, he said.
"Our workers' competency and skills are poor and so they are hardly competitive.”
In the meantime, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand had already made good preparations like sending their tourism students overseas for internship, experts said, warning that they would be strong rivals for Vietnamese workers.
Tran Xuan Hung, director of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Viking Travel & Media Corporation, said several Indonesian students recently started six-month internships at his company and would be offered jobs if they prove competent.
While their salaries may not be considerably higher than that of Vietnamese staff, their work and English skills were much better, besides which they could help the company access foreign markets, Hung said.
Vietnamese tourism workers face a very high risk of losing their jobs to foreign professionals, Hung warned.
Still have time?
Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said many businesses, especially small and medium-sized ones, are not even aware of the imminent competition.
He said his association and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism have so far organized 20 professional training sessions for local companies to show them what opportunities and threats the open market could bring.
The businesses are likely to train their workers, he said, expressing belief that time was yet to run out for Vietnam in catching up with its neighbors.
A threat is unlikely any time soon, especially for lowly jobs, given the low salaries, language barrier and many other reasons, he said.
"We still have time to improve our employees' skills. But first of all we need to make businesses and workers aware of the risks.”