Hassles, scams tarnish HCMC tourism reputation

By Hoang Phong   October 1, 2019 | 11:50 pm PT
Hassles, scams tarnish HCMC tourism reputation
Foreign tourists buy souvenirs at the Ben Thanh Market in downtown Saigon. Photo by Shutterstocks/diemtinh.
The HCMC tourism industry seeks to persuade visitors to stay longer, but harassment and cheating remain big turn-offs for foreigners.

Authorities in Vietnam’s premier metropolis dealt with more than 3,660 cases of taxi and cyclo drivers, street vendors and beggars hassling or ripping off tourists, mainly foreigners, in the first nine months of this year, according to the city Department of Tourism. 

While the number of cases declined by half, the situation is actually worsening, it said in a nine-month report.

"The hassling and rip-offs usually take place quickly and without clear evidence. Many foreign tourists do not report to the police since they do not understand Vietnamese and do not want any trouble, making it difficult for police officers and tourism authorities to deal with the incidents," said Nguyen Anh Hoa, the department's deputy director.

Truong Hoang Phuong of the HCMC Tourism Association said: "Ripping off, cheating and yelling at foreign tourists make the Vietnamese tourism industry ugly in the eyes of international visitors and negatively affects the quality of the visitor experience. This deters them from returning."

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

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

"Foreign tourists always meet the hustlers and hasslers in many ways. It makes a bad impression and no wonder people don't come back."

Foreign tourists on the pedestrians-only Bui Vien Street in District 1. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Foreign tourists on the pedestrians-only Bui Vien Street in District 1. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

A number of cases of scamsters targeting foreign tourists have been reported recently, tainting the city’s image as a top travel destination.

The most notorious and one that triggered public anger was that of cyclo driver Pham Van Dung, who charged an elderly Japanese man VND2.9 million ($125) for a five-minute ride. He was arrested in August on charges of property appropriation. The normal cyclo rate in Saigon and other major cities is around VND100,000 ($4.3) per person per hour.

Also in August an Indian tourist was ripped off by a taxi driver who pretended to be an employee of a popular taxi company. He charged him VND1.2 million ($52) for an eight-kilometer ride from the airport to Nguyen Hue Street in District 1, which normally costs around VND150,000 ($6.5).

Last month two cyclo drivers were arrested for overcharging and attempting to rob two Filipino women in HCMC.

Weak law enforcement and meager fines are partly to blame for the scams perpetrated on visitors, which also include tricking them into buying things at ridiculous prices.

The penalty for property appropriation in the Penal Code is between one and 20 years in jail, depending on the value and damage caused by the act.

HCMC received more than six million foreign visitors in the first nine months of this year, up 14.3 percent from a year ago. The city hopes to get 8.5 million visitors this year, 14 percent more than last year.

Hanoi and HCMC were named among the top 20 travel destinations in the Asia-Pacific region in the annual Asia Pacific Destinations Index drawn up by U.S. payment company Mastercard.

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