Friday, September 13, 2013

Vietnam: Tourism on the "Ropes," First Six Months of 2013 Reveal Tourism Increases Only 2.6%

According to and my numerous postings over the last couple of years concerning  the wholesale victimization of foreigners in Vietnam, which seems to reveal indifference and a lack of interest to deter rampant crime, particularly on foreigners.

Unfortunately, it is commonplace for disreputable taxi drivers to abduct foreign tourists against their will, often threatened with bodily harm, to consistently "rip off" tourists of all nationalities, assaulting tourists when they refused to pay exorbitant taxi fees for traveling less than a mile, etc. 

In many cases, taxi drivers have held fares against their will and have extorted large sums of foreign currency from them, upwards of US$1,500.

According to government statistics, the number of foreign tourists in Vietnam increased from 1.35 million in 1995 to nearly 7 million in 2012. The number of domestic tourists increased from 7 million to 33 million over the same period.

In 2012, revenues from tourism were VND160 trillion ($7.59 billion), accounting for six percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

However, in the first half of this year, the number of foreign tourists only increased 2.6% over last year. The influx of foreigners to Vietnam increased 13.9 and 18.1% in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Needless to say, it is puzzling to me as to why the Vietnamese government has tolerated a major decline in foreign tourists, given the significant hard currency that travelers bring into the country.

COMMENT: The downside is that officially and privately the Vietnamese government has strangely been very slow to take any corrective action, although seemingly Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has finally "smelled the coffee" and realized that the tourism is crumbling.

What the good PM fails to realize is that every victimized foreign traveler that gets fleeced in Vietnam is hardly an ambassador for Vietnamese tourism when they get back home and tell their friends about much money they lost to being strong-armed, extorted and robbed.

Another facet is that many foreign tourists have yet to "get the word" that taking an iPhone to Vietnam is like waving a flag that says "take me." As a result, perhaps hundreds of iPhones and other smart-phones have been stolen in Vietnam over the last few years, largely because of the government's failure to address concerns where tourists are concerned.

Alternatively, iPhone users should leave their iPhones and smart-phones at home and simply use a simple "unlocked" quad-band mobile while they're in Vietnam. One less thing to worry about.

Presumably, the PM has instructed relevant agencies to carry out “determined and detailed measures, which should be taken immediately to make Vietnam a safe and friendly tourist destination for the long term.”

Unfortunately, what PM Nguyen Tan Dung fails to realize is that many, but not all Vietnamese police are co-conspirators along with the extortionists, scam artists, kidnappers and shakedown hoodlums that permeate all Vietnamese cities.

The police have been instructed to step up patrols in urban centers and tourism destinations around the country to improve security during the peak season. Also, they must know foreign languages and act in a friendly manner to visitors.

What Vietnam's PM has obviously not yet realized is that his own police organizations should be protecting tourists and arresting those who prey upon them and never causing a societal problem to be so severe that the PM of a country has to become directly involved as Vietnam's chief law enforcer. 

“At each tourist destination that attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, an assistance center should be opened with a hotline for tourists to contact if they have a problem,” PM Dung was quoted by the government’s website as directing.

He also ordered the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to increase fines on those found littering at tourist destinations and hassling tourists.

The Ministry of Public Security has also been told to study the feasibility of establishing a tourism police force.

At a recent press conference to introduce the 2013 Trade Village Festival of Hanoi and the Red River provinces, Vu The Binh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said that Vietnam is not leaving a good impression on foreign tourists.

Binh also emphasized: “However, the center only receives information – it doesn’t deal with the urgent cases such as when tourists report being robbed,” he said, adding that the percentage of tourists who return to Vietnam is still small.

Being somewhat pragmatic, when the majority of foreign travelers are being victimized in a country, regardless of the criminal tactic used, that is a more than subtle way of saying "go away."

My suggestion to foreign travelers who are considering Vietnam as a destination should perhaps WAIT until 2015, to see if PM Dung's efforts to restore tourist confidence returns, as it is fruitless to continue to go back to a country where there is high likelihood of being victimized yet again.