Tourists wary of rip-offs in HCMC

By Bich Phuong, Van Khanh    September 20, 2023 | 04:30 pm PT
Tourists wary of rip-offs in HCMC
French tourist Laurine (R) and her mother hold souvenirs bought at Ben Thanh Market in downtown HCMC, September 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Bich Phuong
Foreign travelers are spending less money shopping in Ho Chi Minh City as they fear over-charging, which has been a deep-rooted issue in Vietnam's tourism industry for years now.

French tourist Laurine, who visited HCMC for the first time earlier this month, said before her trip to Vietnam her friends told her she should haggle at half the initial price when buying items in HCMC.

When Laurine visited Ben Thanh in downtown area, she was impressed by the beauty of the century-old market with French colonial architecture.

She dropped by souvenir stalls inside the market and asked to buy conical hats and small embroidered paintings, but vendors charged her over VND200,000 (US$8.22) for each item.

She then negotiated with the vendors and bargained for 50-70% of the initial price. When the vendors refused, she pretended to walk away and they then chased after her, agreeing to sell each item for VND40,000-80,000.

"Rip-offs have become a common issue at traditional markets in many Asian countries, not just Vietnam. Therefore, I was not shocked when I was overcharged, but I just didn't know what the real value of the item was, nor what I deserved for the amount of money I spent," Laurine said.

Unlike Laurine, Ash from New Zealand's first visit to HCMC had her shocked when she had to bargain to buy items.

She visited traditional markets in District 1 such as Ben Thanh and Tan Dinh.

"Afraid of being cheated, I only bought a few souvenirs at traditional markets with prices less than VND200,000," she said.

Bui Thi Ngoc Hieu, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City's Department of Tourism, said that in the first six months of this year, the city welcomed 1.9 million international visitors.

Although shopping is considered the main product of the city, Vietnam's commercial hub, the proportion of spending on shopping is still low.

Its total revenue from tourism reached VND80.8 trillion ($3.32 billion), of which the shopping activities of international visitors contributed 9%, Hieu said.

In Ho Chi Minh City, foreign tourists spend 17% of their total spending on shopping while the figure is 23% in Bangkok, 28% in Singapore and 32% in Kuala Lumpur.

Overcharging foreign tourists at traditional markets has become a headache for the tourism industry.

Hieu said swindles "have not only caused direct impacts on local vendors but also hurt the city's tourism image."

Last month, a clothes seller in Ben Thanh Market was prohibited from doing business for a week after charging a Japanese tourist 12 times the normal price for socks.

The incident was widely shared on social media and YouTube channels, with many foreign tourists leaving negative comments about tourism in Vietnam.

Huynh Phan Phuong Hoang, deputy director of leading tour operator Vietravel, said many foreign tourists spend less and limit shopping entirely while traveling in HCMC because they fear overcharging.

"This could affect the city's tourism revenue," Hoang added.

To prevent foreign tourists from being ripped-off, she proposed that city authorities consider building shopping streets for foreigners and publicize price listings.

Tourism authorities said they are working closely with police to crack down on similar cases of overcharging foreign tourists to turn HCMC into a safe and friendly destination.

To avoid being ripped off, some foreign tourists do not shop at traditional markets. For electronics, cosmetics, and fashion items, Ash chose to buy them at shopping centers with listed prices.

"In New Zealand, whether at retail markets or shopping malls, prices are the same, I don't have to bargain like I do when traveling," she said.

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