Cheating foreign tourists threatens Vietnam's tourism recovery

By Xanh Le, Hoang Phong   January 9, 2023 | 05:47 pm PT
Cheating foreign tourists threatens Vietnam's tourism recovery
Foreign tourists take cyclo rides on a street in Hue, May 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh
As Vietnam races to attract foreign tourists back to the country after over two years of border closures, harassment and cheating remain big turn-offs that tarnish the country's tourism reputation.

During a recent trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Indian tourist Antonio said he was disappointed right on the first day as he was ripped off by a local vendor while walking with his friends near the Central Post Office in District 1.

A local man asked Antonio if he wanted to drink coconut water and when he asked how much a coconut costs, the man answered, "For free."

When Antonio asked the vendor again, he still replied "No, no for free."

The vendor then invited Antonio to take photos standing beside his coconut drink push cart, after which he charged the foreign tourist VND300,000 ($12.87) for the coconut.

Antonio did not understand the exchange rate, and thinking that the vendor was nice, he accepted paying such a high amount of money to him.

"When I got back to the hotel in Thailand, I checked the exchange rate and knew I was being ripped off by him," Antonio said. "If I compare the price, I can buy 30 coconuts in my country for that same amount of money."

"Too tricky," lamented Antonio. "There were no reason for him to do that," he said.

Antonio is among the many foreign tourists who have become the victims of harassment and rip-offs while visiting in Vietnam.

Last week, a family of five Japanese tourists were charged VND1 million ($42.61) for a one km ride from the international terminal to the domestic terminal of Noi Bai International Airport. A one-kilometer taxi drive in Vietnam normally costs less than $1.

On New Year’s Day, two Thai tourists were charged VND925,000 for their meal at a restaurant in the northern highlands resort town Sa Pa, three times higher than the actual price.

"Everywhere people are being cheated," Elisa, a foreign tourist visiting Hanoi told VnExpress. "In the shops, and markets we were overcharged."

She said she recently took a 31-km Grab ride from Soc Son District to Hanoi with a fixed price of VND350,000, but the driver asked her to pay VND500,000.

"I didn’t think it was worthwhile calling the hotline to complain about my problem," she said.

Elisa said she had tried calling the hotline to report being cheated but when she dialed the number, there was no one there who could speak English to communicate with her to help her solve her problem.

Although the tourism industry has launched hotlines to receive feedback and complaints from foreign tourists about harassment and cheating, most foreign tourists complain that these hotlines do not work properly.

Vietnam opened its border on March 15 last year, becoming one of the first Southeast Asian countries to fully reopen tourism. However, it is lagging far behind its neighbors in post reopening tourism recovery as the country only received 3.7 million foreign tourists in 2022, around 70% off its target.

Industry insiders blame weak law enforcement and meager fines for the pervasive fraud perpetrated on visitors, including tricking foreigners into buying things at unreasonable prices.

In Vietnam, those deceiving tourists face fines of up to VND10 million.

The restaurant in Sa Pa that overcharged the Thai tourists during the New Year holiday was fined VND7.5 million while in some cases, perpetrators were fined VND1 million or less than VND5 million.

Carl Robinson, a former American war correspondent who used to lead tours to Vietnam, said that the overall problem with Vietnam is return visitors. "People come once, tick it off their list and then don't come back again," he said.

"Hassling and cheating by tourism services are leaving bad impressions on international visitors," said Robinson, "negatively affecting the quality of the visitor experience in many of Vietnam’s popular tourist destinations."

Phan Dinh Hue, a tourism expert in the Mekong Delta, said the tourism industry should follow Thailand’s footsteps in cracking down on the cheating of tourists, such as establishing a tourism police team that will be responsible for guarding at tourist attractions or downtown areas to prevent possible tourist scams.

In addition, the government should consider imposing tougher fines on those ripping off tourists and launching one hotline to receive complaints from tourists instead of so many hotlines as now.

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