Vietnamese tourists treated second-class in their own country

By Bich Phuong   October 25, 2023 | 11:29 pm PT
Vietnamese tourists treated second-class in their own country
Vietnamese tourists in Sa Pa in northern Vietnam, May 2023. Photo by Duong Quoc Hieu
Hotels and restaurants treat foreign tourists better than Vietnamese guests according to insiders who say the discrimination could hinder domestic tourism's recovery.

Hoa Hong, living in the southern province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau, said she was badly treated at check in at a five-star hotel during her trip to Ho Chi Minh City in March.

She had been gifted a free two-night stay at this hotel. Hong sent the voucher code in advance for the staff to check and finalize her online booking. Upon arrival, the check-in counter had three staff to assist guests.

She walked into the empty counter, gave the voucher and a booking confirmation message to the receptionist. Instead of checking the voucher, the staff asked Hong to wait because they had to conduct the check-in procedures for a group of foreign tourists, even though they arrived after Hong.

"At that time, I didn't react because I thought I would have to wait for confirmation so I would let the group of foreign tourists check in first," Hong said.

"Waiting for 5-10 minutes is not a big problem, but I wondered about Vietnamese people always badly treated in places that mainly serve foreign tourists," she added.

Favoritism towards foreign tourists is common in the Vietnamese tourism industry.

In 2019, a coffee shop in Hoi An was criticized for not serving Vietnamese customers and only receiving foreigners.

Local authorities then worked with the shop owner to change its service attitude, so as not to dent the image of Hoi An tourism.

Tourism experts said that revenues from domestic tourists have increased over the years, from VND158 trillion (US$6.5 billion) in 2015 to VND334 trillion in 2019, accounting for 43% of total tourism revenues.

Phan Huynh Phuong Hoang, deputy general director of leading tour operator Vietravel, said that some restaurants in Vietnam put up signs "serving foreign tourists only" and show indifference to domestic guests.

Though some of these restaurants made public apologies after receiving criticism from the public, in reality they still favor foreign tourists, she added.

"Discrimination is the 'most effective' way to evict tourists, even worse than the problem of overcharging," Hoang said.

Nguyen Dong Hoa, deputy general director of Saigontourist Group, said poor service quality is one of the main reasons why Vietnamese tourists have been traveling abroad more this year.

In the second quarter, Vietnamese tourists' demand for overseas travel had the highest growth rate in Southeast Asia, equal to 175% compared to the same period before Covid pandemic, according to a Google survey.

In the first nine months of this year, the number of Vietnamese tourists traveling abroad reached over 3.8 million, up 2.5 times year-on-year.

Hoang said that the problem of treating foreign tourists better than Vietnamese guests was due to the fact that foreigners "are often generous in paying tips" while some Vietnamese people behave uncivilized such as not lining up and wasting food at buffet parties.

Vietnamese preferring to travel abroad is a minus for the domestic industry, and insiders are looking for ways to keep locals spending travel dollars in Vietnam.

Nguyen Anh Thu, research director of travel company Outbox Consulting, said that the recovery of the international tourist market has been "much slower" than the domestic segment.

In 2019, Vietnam welcomed 85 million domestic visitors while the figure amounted to 101 million last year.

Thu said the tourism industry should pay more attention to domestic tourists with large potential to reduce dependence on international visitors amid gloomy global economic prospects.

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