Editor’s note: Two readers with intense experiences with Vietnam’s tourism industry have written to Tuoi Tre News with differing feedback on the op-ed of Lani Nguyen, another tourism worker who believed the blame should not be put solely on Vietnam if someone has anunhappy trip there.
I do not agree with Nguyen.
I am Dutch and I have worked in the tourism industry. For the past ten years, I have lived in Vietnam. In this period, my Vietnamese wife and I have traveled from north to south and west to east in this country. We have stayed in all levels of hotels and eaten in all kinds of restaurants.
However, sixty percent of those trips were as disappointing for my wife as they were for myself. It was not due to Vietnam the country, but to the people who are working in the hospitality industry and the people who see tourists as oranges that they can squeeze. This applies not only to foreign tourists, but also to Vietnamese holidaymakers.
Let me name some of the issues which have made our trips less than 100 percent nice ones:
- Hotel service staff have a poor command of English, as more than 80 percent only speak Vietnamese, and work because they have to, without a smile. They should say ‘hello’ or ‘good day,’ instead of waiting to hear it from their guests first.
- A lot of restaurants are overcharging diners. There are places where staff do nothing but pick their noses on the work floor, shout and play games with each other, putting fingers inside glasses, etc.
- When I buy a newspaper on the street and only speak English, I pay VND30,000; when I speak Vietnamese, VND 20,000; and when my wife buys it, only VND10,000.
These things irritate my wife too. For your information, we live and work in the south-central province of Binh Dinh, and have our noses down and not up. We’ve maintained many local friends for years.
While tourism is a very important industry for Vietnam, the country lacks a good tourism and hospitality education that teaches people how to be hospitable and service-minded. They should be aware that they are there for tourists and that the tourists are not for them.
Nevertheless, Vietnam still offers you a fabulous vacation with a clean, warm, service-minded smile.
I am a Malaysian who has worked in tourism and hospitality in Vietnam for 13 years.
Upon reading Lani Nguyen's comments, I must say I agree with all three shortcomings from the tourist’s side that she mentioned in the post.
However, adding more examples to support her view would only sound like more ranting. It would be great if authorities took those drawbacks into consideration for future development.
Still, here are some of my own points in support of Nguyen.
Either this or that, but nothing in between
Do some research online for tours and you will find words laced with luxury and sentences that baffle the reader. This big divide in language capability also indicates the price points of these tours; one sounds like it demands a lifetime of savings, while the other might cost less than a round of golf at home.
Many people might not realize, but this makes first-time travelers believe that visiting Vietnam is only viable by either joining a group travel or going luxury.
Not every traveler wants to be a backpacker, and at the same time not every tourist wants to spend that much money for ‘wow-factor’ architecture or manicured resorts.
The solution: travel less that luxury, but not cheap either.
While it might be very challenging to travel all by yourself in Vietnam, be ready to move around on your own.
Why must I be in a vehicle?
This begins a great debate. Where can one walk and absorb the vibes of local human activity when sidewalks do not belong to the pedestrians? Motorbikes have more rights than humans here.
Remember that many magazines, coffee table books and travel journals write about or feature images of crispy pancakes, sweet desserts etc., served from portable makeshift kitchens? You can't see that kind of daily life from a tourist bus or car. You need to walk the streets.
The expensive new Nguyen Hue Boulevard is not exactly showcasing the same thing, though buskers and performances do tell a lot about the aspirations of young Vietnamese.
More on the scam, perhaps?
Travelers, tourists or backpackers, alike, could get the feeling that they 'overpaid' their travel agent upon arrival to their tour or hotel, merely because these service providers hand out a big sign with a ridiculous discount on it.
Imagine paying $60 for a hotel room via the hotel’s online booking system months ago, only to find out the room cost half as much upon checking in.
Rate disparity is common as soon as low season arrives. These hotels don’t plan their low season prices while they wallow during the high season.
Some agents also have no clue about rate parity, and will sell at a higher price than the price of the actual operator that provides it.
Lots more but these will suffice for now.