With authorities in Vietnam’s popular tourist destinations keeping a close watch on Chinese nationals performing as unlicensed tour guides, the foreigners are employing even more cunning tricks to defy regulations.
According to current regulations, travel firms serving foreign tourists in Vietnam must use local tour guides, with no foreigners allowed to work as tour guides.
Despite this, many groups of Chinese holidaymakers have been taken around Vietnam by Chinese guides, while Vietnamese tour guides are paid to accompany them during the trips just in case they are inspected by authorities.
The local personnel are in charge of buying tickets, while the introductory tasks are done by Chinese tour leaders.
As Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported about the illegal foreign tour guides late last year, authorities in Nha Trang, the capital of the south-central Vietnamese province of Khanh Hoa, have tightened checks on foreign tourism groups to see if they adopt the trick.
Nha Trang is said by experts to be on the verge of being ‘Chinalized,’ as Chinese arrivals to the beach city keep rising.
Chinese vacationers, however, are mostly taken around the city and to shops that only serve Chinese tourists by unlicensed Chinese tour guides.
Work from behind
As observed by Tuoi Tre, at the most popular attractions in Nha Trang, such as Chong Isle, Po Nagar Tower, Long Son Pagoda or the Mountain Cathedral, all buses carrying Chinese tourists are led by a Chinese tour guide, sometimes accompanied by a Vietnamese partner, who are not hired as a tour guide but as translators.
Also worth noticing is that Chinese tour guides will return to the buses once all of their guests enter the attractions, rather than following them.
This is how the unlicensed Chinese guides dodge detection, N.D., who works for a Vietnamese travel firm, told Tuoi Tre.
“The Chinese tour guides now avoid being with their guests in public, fearing being caught by local authorities, and so they will do all the introductory tasks aboard the bus en route to the attractions,” D. explained.
“Once the tourists reach their destination, they will either explore the place on their own, or follow the translators.”
D. is in fact not a licensed tour guide himself. However, he has been working for a travel firm exclusively serving Chinese tourist groups in Nha Trang for the last five months as 'a scapegoat' with a daily wage of VND600,000 (US$26.79), he admitted.
“When the group is inspected, I will be introduced as their official tour guide, and the Chinese national who actually takes them around will become the group leader,” D. said.
This means the company will not be fined for using an unlicensed foreign tour guide, but for using a local guide without a license to serve international tourists, he explained.
Industry insiders say as long as Chinese tourists keep visiting Nha Trang, they will present more problems than benefits to the local tourism sector.
Hai, a driver of a company exclusively serving Chinese tourists in the city, said he is only allowed to take the guests to a certain number of shops and tourist areas, which pay his company and the tour guides hefty commissions.
“They will charge the tourists VND850,000 [$38] for a mud bathing ticket that actually costs VND230,000 [$10],” the driver said.
Another concern is that the unofficial Chinese tour guides are ‘stealing’ jobs from qualified Vietnamese personnel.
“There are up to 700 unlicensed Chinese tour guides here in Nha Trang, taking Vietnamese guides out of the game,” Nguyen Viet Cuong, a licensed international tour leader, told Tuoi Tre.
The Chinese nationals may also give incorrect information about Vietnam’s history, geography and culture to the foreign holidaymakers, as they can never be as knowledgeable as locals, Cuong added.
According to the Khanh Hoa tourism department, Chinese arrivals reached nearly 200,000 in the first six months of this year, more than five times the same period last year.
However, there are only 11 local Chinese-speaking tour guides in the province, deputy director of the department Phan Thanh Truc admitted.
There are 27 travel firms in Khanh Hoa specializing in organizing tours for Chinese vacationers, meaning they have had to hire Vietnamese tour guides from other locations to meet demand, Truc added.
“Many groups of Chinese tourists are guided by the group’s leaders, which is an offense here because Vietnam bans foreigners from working as tour guides,” she said.