As tourism ambassadors, Vietnam tour guides just fail to do their job

While a tour guide is supposed to provide assistance, information and cultural, historical and contemporary heritage interpretation to vacationers, some would only do the otherwise and scare tourists away

A tour guide (R, 2nd) speaks to foreign tourists at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

As soon as tourists begin their journey to explore Vietnam, they will meet their tour guides, who could be considered the Vietnamese ambassadors for tourism.

But many foreign tourists have asserted that they will never return to the country after being guided, and in some cases abandoned, by local tour guides.

On February 3 last year, more than 100 Hong Kong tourists were taken to Ha Long Bay, located in the northern province of Quang Ninh, to explore the UNESCO heritage site by Khang Thai Co.

But shortly after their arrival, the tour guide vanished into thin air, leaving the tourists with their jaw fell.

Ha Quang Long, director of the Quang Ninh tourism department, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper the following day that the tour guide in charge of the package “had tried to pay a visit to his home” but failed to return on time.

“He should have told the tourists about his plan,” Long said.

The department asked Khang Thai Co. to send another tour guide to serve the tourists an hour after being notified of it, Long added.

A tour guide, in ao dai, speaks to tourists at an attraction in Hue, located in central Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A tour guide, in ao dai, speaks to tourists at an attraction in Hue, located in central Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Many tour guides, meanwhile, pay almost no attention to presenting a clean image when working with their customers.

Some take tourists around in rumpled outfits and their hair is kept long and unkempt, according to newswire Bao Phap Luat (Law Newspaper).

Even worse, tourists are sometimes guided by those with unpleasant body smells, the Hanoi-based newswire said.

Cao Tri Dung, chairman of the travel association of the central city of Da Nang, said many tour guides think of their own benefits more than those of the tourists or travel agencies.

“I’m not trying to be one-sided, but it’s common for six to seven out of ten tour guides of a tour organizer to have such a working attitude,” he told Bao Phap Luat.

The first thing these tour guides do whenever they lead a new group of vacationers is think about taking them to certain shopping venues where they will enjoy commissions from the store owners on purchases of the tourists, Dung elaborated.

“They also try to bring their vacationers to destinations outside the official itinerary without the tour organizers’ knowledge, and to get generous tips from them,” he added.

“So there’s no time left for them to introduce the beauty or profound culture of the attractions.”

Tourists thus have to pay more on their trips and sometimes they fall prey to rip-offs by the shops that are not recommended by the travel companies whose tour packages they purchased.

They will feel cheated and there is very little likelihood that such experience on the first trip to Vietnam would encourage them to return.

A tour guide speaks to foreign tourists at an attraction in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A tour guide speaks to foreign tourists at an attraction in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

While a tour guide is expected to interpret the cultural and natural heritage of the attraction they take tourists to, some lack the basic knowledge of even the most famous places of interest.

When introducing the Temple of Literature in Hanoi to a group of Spanish tourists, a tour guide said there is an area in the temple where eunuchs were buried, according to Bao Phap Luat.

The area is in fact the "Imperial Academy,” known as Vietnam's first national university and where many steles of Vietnamese doctors are laid, which the tour guide said are “graves of the eunuchs.”

Unfortunately, one of the tourists, who had visited the place before, spoke out to correct the tour guide, leaving his face white with embarrassment.

Many tour guides, meanwhile, tend to give tourists with indifferent answers to questions about the cultural, historical details of an attraction, or recommendation for good restaurants or hotels.

Some speak broken English or have a poor command of other foreign languages, while those who have good language proficiency have little tourism knowledge.

Nearly 100 percent of tourism employees graduating from tourism training schools in Ho Chi Minh City have to be re-trained before they can do their job, Bao Phap Luat said, citing a report that surveyed 20 travel firms in the southern hub.

* Are Vietnamese tour guides really this bad? Who has guided you on your latest Vietnam trip? Did you enjoy the journey because of the good tour guide, or endure the same inconveniences? Please share your stories with us via or leave your words in the comment box below.

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