Travel agencies fined, licenses revoked in Vietnam

By Khuong Nha, Van Khuong   December 31, 2018 | 06:30 pm PT
Travel agencies fined, licenses revoked in Vietnam
Night street view of the Famous Small Mountain Village, Old Town Jiufen, New Taipei, Taiwan. Photo by Shutterstock/weniliou
Two travel agencies have been fined and their licenses suspended for violations regarding 'missing' Vietnamese tourists in Taiwan.

The International Holidays Trading Travel Co. in Ho Chi Minh City was fined VND33 million ($1,421) and had its international tour operation business license revoked for a year.

The company was found to have committed three violations: changing its working address without informing authorities at least 15 days in advance; having no written contracts with tourists; and not guiding tourists as per the contracts and tour programs, the HCMC's department of tourism announced Monday.

The travel agency was responsible for creating itineraries and applying for visas on behalf of the Vietnamese tourists.

It also failed to provide documents to prove its legal authorization for signing visa provision contracts with Taiwan-based ETholiday travel agency, which was responsible for receiving the tourists in Taiwan, and two other Vietnamese travel agencies, Golden Travel and Twin Bright, that organized the tour groups in Vietnam, the department said.

Hanoi-based Golden Travel was fined VND48.5 million ($2,090) and had its international tour operation business license revoked for nine months for allowing tour guides without proper licenses to guide tourists and not managing the tourists as per contracts, Hanoi’s tourism department nnounced Saturday.

The Twin Bright agency, not yet fined, was also found to have signed contracts with the International Holidays Trading Travel Co. without knowing the identity of the other signing party, the department said.

Case files on Golden Travel and Twin Bright have been sent to Hanoi’s Police Department for further investigation.

Last week, Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency had said that of all but one of 153 Vietnamese tourists who arrived in the south-western city of Kaohsiung on December 21 and 23 in four groups had strayed and gone missing. The one remaining was a 17-year-old boy.

The news of 152 people going missing was an unprecedented incident that shocked the public and authorities in Taiwan and Vietnam. The group included a four-year-old girl and a 62-year-old man; most of the rest were between 20 and 38 years of age.

The Vietnamese went to Taiwan through the Kuan Hung visa program, a part of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy to establish closer ties with selected nations, making it easier for citizens of Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to visit Taiwan by applying for electronic visas without paying for visa fees. It also allows simplified visa procedures for groups of five tourists or more from the six countries, as long as they are organized by "quality travel agencies" recognized by the Tourism Bureau or if they are part of company-sponsored groups.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism has stated that the tourists took advantage of the special electronic visas to work illegally in Taiwan.

In response, Taiwanese authorities have temporarily suspended 102 travel agencies in Vietnam from the program under which they could apply for group visas for Vietnamese citizens and shortened the length of visas issued to Vietnamese from 30 to 14 days. It also decided to take tougher actions to clamp down on foreign illegal workers in the coming time, including checks on return tickets and hotel bookings.

As of Sunday, Taiwanese police had found 24 missing Vietnamese tourists, while another has been contacted and three decided to return to Vietnam. The remaining 124 are still missing. Once found, the tourists would be deported and banned from re-entering Taiwan for an unspecified amount of time for violating its Immigration Law.

Also on Sunday, Taiwanese authorites detained a 30-year-old local man of Vietnamese origin, whose surname is Trinh, for allegedly helping the 152 Vietnamese tourists ‘disappear.’

In recent years, Taiwan has emerged as a promising destination for Vietnamese workers looking for jobs overseas. In 2018, Vietnam sent around 65,000 workers to Taiwan, nearly half of all the workers it sent overseas.

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