Taxi commissions raise Phu Quoc restaurant prices

By Tu Nguyen, Ngoc Tai   May 21, 2023 | 04:00 pm PT
Taxi commissions raise Phu Quoc restaurant prices
Cars park along Tran Hung Dao Street, home to restaurants in Duong Dong Town, Phu Quoc. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Khanh
Many restaurants on the resort island of Phu Quoc pay 20-30% commission to taxi drivers who bring them customers, causing a spike in prices and public ire.

Nguyen Cam Loan in Ho Chi Minh City was frustrated after her recent trip to Phu Quoc for the Reunification Day and May Day (April 30-May 1) holidays.

When using a taxi to take her family to a local restaurant, she was enthusiastically introduced by the driver to a rice pot restaurant. However, a meal for four people with regular dishes, including rice, boiled vegetables, braised fish and braised meat, cost nearly VND1.3 million ($55.39).

She then complained to the taxi driver who took her family to the restaurant to no avail.

Incensed, Loan said drivers should only recommend eateries based on quality, otherwise both drivers and restaurants "will lose customers in the future."

Once a popular tourist hotspot for its famed pearls and scenery, Phu Quoc has been shunned by travelers recently. In addition to high airfares, exorbitant service prices have made the island lose much of its charm in the eyes of many tourists.

Phu Quoc officials have said that food services in Phu Quoc are pricier than the mainland due to the fact that materials have to be transported by air or sea to the island.

However, insiders have said that the fact that dining establishments have to pay high commissions to taxi drivers is actually the reason that eating out on the island is so expensive.

Phuong Linh, manager of a restaurant on Phu Quoc, said many restaurants depend entirely on taxi drivers for customers, which could be a sign of unfair competition.

Due to last year’s post-lockdown travel fever, new restaurants have "sprung up like mushrooms" in Phu Quoc, said Linh.

Unable to compete with prestigious restaurants, they pay the hefty fee of 20 to 25% so that taxi drivers bring tourists to their restaurants.

Linh said paying commission to taxi drivers is not new and has been common for some time. However, the normal level is around 10%. Therefore, the higher commissions taxi drivers receive, the higher the price of services that tourists have to pay for, Linh added.

Linh's restaurant can only afford to pay 10% of the commission, so "no driver is willing to carry tourists to my restaurant," she said.

She told drivers that she could increase the commission to 12%, but they said no.

Hoang Trung, the owner of a restaurant in Phu Quoc’s Duong Dong Town, said his establishment has been "slandered" by taxi drivers because it only pays a 15% commission.

Some tourists that have hailed cabs to visit Trung's restaurant have been taken elsewhere instead by drivers seeking higher fees.

Ngoc Cuong, who worked as a taxi manager for seven years, said that at first, restaurants and entertainment venues paid a commission of VND10,000 per tourist for drivers. The figure then increased to VND20,000, and is now VND35,000.

To lure more customers, some new restaurants have raised the commission rate to 20% - 30% of the total bill. And massage establishments are known for their willingness to spend 50%.

"A taxi driver in Phu Quoc earns about VND15-17 million a month, but their commission is sometimes double," Cuong said.

Cuong estimated that about 75% of restaurants in Phu Quoc are paying commissions to taxi drivers.

A Phu Quoc official who requested anonymity admitted that local restaurants are paying commissions to taxi drivers, but they also said "the rate is not high."

However, the official also promised to crack down on the issue to safeguard Phu Quoc’s image.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Phu Quoc has been falling sharply, forcing some airlines to cancel flights to the island from India, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In April, foreign visitor numbers plummeted by 27.3% from the previous month to 47,725.

Well known for its long, sandy beaches with turquoise waters and dense forests, Phu Quoc has for years been a popular holiday destination for both Vietnamese and foreign tourists.

It is also home to a marine sanctuary and a national park popular with trekkers.

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