Return of Chinese tour scam puts northern Vietnamese province on alert

By Vy An   March 27, 2017 | 04:28 am PT
Return of Chinese tour scam puts northern Vietnamese province on alert
Chinese tourists at Mong Cai border gate in the northern province of Quang Ninh, which borders China. Photo by Minh Cuong
A sudden jump in the number of Chinese visitors signals the comeback of the shady business in Quang Ninh.

The number of Chinese tourists arriving in Vietnam's northern province of Quang Ninh has unexpectedly spiked since the Lunar New Year, and local authorities are worried that the increase is largely due to the return of Chinese-sponsored "$0 tours", which are actually rip-off trips in disguise.

Mong Cai Border Gate, the main entrance from China into Quang Ninh, recently reported that the number of Chinese arrivals via the gate has increased to 5,000 per day, and even 10,000-15,000 over the weekends, which is two to three times higher than usual.

Nguyen Cuong, the owner of a restaurant near Bai Chay Beach in Quang Ninh, said his establishment has been welcoming 800 guests per day on average recently, four times higher than usual, and most of them are from China.

Cuong said tour operators had told him that due to the political tension between China and South Korea, the tour operators had decided to push tourists to Vietnam instead.

But Vietnamese tourism experts blame the return of what they call "$0 tours" for the unusual influx of Chinese tourist arrivals in Quang Ninh. These tours are run by Chinese travel firms who bring tourists to the world-renowned Ha Long Bay for free before "selling" them to their counterparts in Vietnam.

Once they arrive in Quang Ninh, the duration of their sightseeing tours is cut and tourists are led into a number of stores selling commodities listed at rip-off prices. Commission is paid to the tour companies for bringing visitors to the shops, which reportedly are only open to Chinese customers and discriminate against Vietnamese locals and tourists.

Since last year, authorities have exposed and punished several stores of this kind in Dong Trieu District and the towns of Mong Cai, Ha Long and Uong Bi. The stores were accused of overcharging the tourists and besmirching the reputation of Vietnam’s tourism industry. It was thought that most of them had been closed after being exposed by media reports and receiving fines from local authorities in the latter half of 2016.

However, during a meeting last week, Vu Thi Thanh Thuy, Quang Ninh's vice mayor, acknowledged that these tours have resurfaced.

In response, Quang Ninh leaders have instructed local leaders to monitor hotels, restaurants and other tourism businesses. The province has also asked the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism to revoke business licenses from any international travel agency that violates the rules.

In 2016, Quang Ninh welcomed about 1.6 million Chinese tourists via the Mong Cai Border Gate.

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