Editor’s note: Son Luong suggests Vietnam’s tourism industry learn from the ‘scam-free tourism drive’ launched by a Malaysia-based adventure park, at a time when grievances over rip-offs and scams are still widely reported whenever the country enters peak travel times.
Tet, or Vietnam’s Lunar New Year, may be the busiest time for people to travel, and it is also the busiest time for news stories about tourist rip-offs and visitors being scammed.
The reality is plain to see. During the latest Tet celebration, beginning a week before and continuing a further week after the first day of the Year of the Monkey, which fell on February 8, tourists were reported to have been conned and overcharged by multiple hotels, eateries and taxis throughout the country.
It is all reminiscent of Escape, an adventure park on the Malaysian island of Penang, which hangs a sign at the ticket counter reading 'Scam-Free Tourist Destination,' capturing the attention of visitors before they enter the venue.
“It is our guarantee that tourists will never get scammed at my park,” said director Sim Choo Kheng, who appeared a bit surprised and then proud when asked about the sign.
A scam-free tourist destination is where visitors of all kinds, locals or foreigners, pay the same price for tickets, and park managers “do not pay ‘kickbacks’ to taxi drivers for bringing people here,” Sim elaborated.
“Tour guides and taxi drivers sometimes ask me for ‘coffee money,’ saying they'll help find visitors for me,” the director said.
“But I always say no, telling them I do not need them to do so, and that there is no such thing as coffee money.”
Even when tourist guides or cabbies threaten not to recommend their guests visit Escape, Sim said it does not matter.
“People still know us thanks to the Internet, so I do not need to pay bribes or kickbacks to anyone in exchange for recommendations,” he said.
“My business competes based on its merit and service quality, not the scale of any kickback I have to pay these people.”
Sim said reviews on travel websites, penned by those with first-hand experience of his park, are the most subjective testimonies.
In November 2013, Sim launched a campaign called the 'Tourism Integrity Pledge' in an effort to make Penang a 'scam-free tourist destination.'
The pledge was later signed by Lim Guan Eng, the island’s chief minister, who also urged people in Penang’s tourism industry to “come forward and support the Tourism Integrity Pledge” to “make Penang the first state in Malaysia to be a Scam Free Tourist Destination.”
All well and good for Malaysia, but can Vietnam learn something from this?
Many readers have told Tuoi Tre News that among the most annoying things about Vietnam is the practice of dual pricing, when foreigners must pay higher than locals for almost everything, as well as dishonest sellers and service providers.
It is also not uncommon for restaurants, delicacy and souvenir stores to pay ‘coffee money’ to drivers and tour guides who take tourists in large groups to their facilities and then overcharge them.
So when will the 'Scam-Free Tourist Destination' sign appear at attractions across the country? Or is it again, just a dream? And how many tourist attractions would dare to hang that sign and then live up to it?
Also, how many business owners and service providers will start to realize that they should compete on merit and quality, instead of scamming tourists?
It should be noted that ripping off tourists is not something exclusive to Vietnam. However the country’s tourism industry needs to learn from this ‘scam-free tourism’ model, so that the busy season for traveling will no longer be associated with the busiest time for stories about tourist scams.
Do you think it is possible for Vietnam to promote scam-free tourist destinations? Join the discussion by commenting below or write us at email@example.com.