Vietnam tourists cancel tours to China amid marine standoff

Thanh Nien News

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Tourists visit the Great Wall of China / FILE PHOTO
Scores of local tourists reportedly cancelled trips to China after it dispatched a mobile oil rig into the Vietnamese waters last week, raising regional tensions.
Nguyen Minh Man, vice director of Vietravel company in Ho Chi Minh City, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Monday that over the past few days their customers have “continually” canceled bookings for Chinese tours, or changed their destinations to Japan and South Korea.
Among those who wanted to switch to Hong Kong, some showed “reluctance” upon being informed that they would still have to apply for visa from the Chinese Consulate General, he said.
Other travel firms in the city have described similar blowback, the newspaper reported.
Tran Van Long, director general of Viet Media Travel Company, said the number of bookings for Chinese tours at his company has “significantly” decreased; customers are cancelling tours every day.
The tensions between Vietnam and China resurfaced last week when the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation moved a US$-1billion oil rig into position in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands.
China also deployed some 80 ships to guard the giant mobile rig, leading to various exchanges at sea.
Vietnamese officials and scholars have condemned China’s violation of Vietnamese autonomy.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Sunday lambasted China for stationing the oil rig in Vietnamese waters at a regional summit in Myanmar, saying the move seriously threatens international freedom of navigation.
Thousands of Vietnamese citizens took to the streets in Hanoi, HCMC and the central city of Da Nang over the weekend to protest China's actions.
Tu Quy Thanh, director of Lien Bang Travel Company, expressed concerns that if the situation continues to worsen, tourism will suffer this summer – the number of customers will decrease and companies will lose on money they've already spent planning and promoting tours.
According to Thanh, the recent trouble came just as interest in outbound travel to China was beginning to recover.
In May of 2011, Chinese marine surveillance vessels entered Vietnamese waters and cut exploratory cables on the Binh Minh 02--a ship from the Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam).
The incident led to a major drop in sales of Chinese tours despite discounts offered by local operators and their Chinese partners, Tuoi Tre reported. 
In the meantime, representatives from airlines operating flights from HCMC to Chinese cities told the newspaper that many Vietnamese passengers have canceled tickets over the past few days.
Le Truong Giang, the spokesman for the state-run Vietnam Airline, said his company is closely supervising the situation.
Vietnam is one of China's five largest feeder markets and sent over 1.3 milion arrivals last year, according to statistics reported on the website Travel China Guide. 

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