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Tourism firms see red as new ban sinks kayaking in Vietnam's Ha Long Bay

By Vy An   April 4, 2017 | 12:00 am GMT+7

Operators lament that the ban takes effect almost immediately, leaving them scrambling to make changes to their scheduled tours. 

The decision by local authorities to ban all kayaking trips in the world-renowned Ha Long Bay last week has come as an unpleasant surprise for many tourism firms.

Ha Long authorities announced the decision last Wednesday following accusations that some kayaking trips are overpriced. It is unclear when these trips will resume.

Local authorities said the number of kayaks in the bay has been growing rapidly, even though many services are not registered. Some tour operators have not informed authorities of kayaking fees, so tourists are overcharged.

But tour operators have lamented that the ban on one of the most popular outdoor activities in the bay was announced only three days ahead of it taking effect, compelling them to scramble to make changes to their scheduled tours. 

Nguyen Hoang, a representative of tourism company Handspan Travel, said his firm was abruptly forced to notify its partners and customers about the change, and deal with compensation, make changes to information on its website and reprint brochures.

Hoang said the authorities must make a clear distinction between legitimate tourism operators and illegal firms.

Other travel companies have also aired grievances against the ban on the service, which has been voted by many prestigious travel agencies such as CNN, Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet, as the most exciting experience in Ha Long Bay. British magazine Wanderlust voted Vietnam in its top 10 destinations for kayaking in 2016.

Nguyen Tien Dat, deputy director of travel agency Transviet, said the reaction of most customers was "unhappy".

"We do not know what to replace the activity with," Dat said. 

Some travel agencies have sent petition to authorities in Quang Ninh Province, home to Ha Long Bay, asking them to revise the decision.

"If the decision cannot be reversed, the local authorities should shelve it until the end of 2017," a representative of German tourism company Chamäleon Reisen suggested.

Ha Long Bay is one of the top attractions in Vietnam. It has around 1,600 islands and islets that form a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars.

The bay was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. The U.K.-based travel site Rough Guides recently listed the bay in the top 10 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Asia.