Vietnam province back-paddles Ha Long Bay kayaking ban in wake of backlash

By Minh Cuong   April 7, 2017 | 02:22 pm GMT+7

Quang Ninh authorities have lifted the ban after only a week following opposition from travel firms.

Provincial authorities in Quang Ninh have asked Ha Long Town to scrap a ban on all kayaking services in the world-renowned Ha Long Bay in the wake of widespread backlash.

Ha Long has been tasked with hammering out a plan to run and manage sporting services in the bay, including kayaking and rowing, Quang Ninh's provincial administration said in a statement on Wednesday.

It needs to specify which areas are safe for these activities and set business and technical standards for tourism firms to ensure the safety of tourists and preserve and promote the image and value of the site.

Last Wednesday, Ha Long announced a decision to drop kayaking from the list of activities available for tourists in the bay amid accusations that some kayaking services were overpriced and affected the image of the bay, which was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.

According to the town authorities, more than 1,400 kayaks were operating in the bay, with about 1,100 of them carried on cruise ships. This additional weight and flammable material puts these ships at risk of sinking or catching fire, threatening the safety of passengers on board.

In wake of the decision, tour operators have been complaining that they were given just three days notice before the ban took affect, leaving them little time to make changes to their scheduled tours.

Other travel companies have also aired their grievances against the kayaking ban, 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, and the National Geographic Adventures Journal listed Ha Long Bay in the world’s 25 ideal places for kayaking in 2000.

Nguyen Tien Dat, deputy director of travel agency Transviet, said most customers had been "unhappy" by the news."We do not know what to replace the activity with," he told VnExpress.

Some travel agencies even sent petitions to authorities in Quang Ninh Province, asking them to revise the decision.

Quang Ninh was visited by 1.2 million foreigners in the first quarter of 2017, up 4 percent against the same period last year, data from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism shows.