“How can Vietnam possibly improve its image in the eyes of global tourists when even local tour guides are obsessed with its shortcomings, especially the polluted environment?” an industry insider wonders.
“One of my tour guides once had a dream in which he had to take tourists through a pile of garbage, and had to collect the rubbish strewing the rivers in the Mekong Delta,” Phan Xuan Anh, chairman of Du Ngoan Viet Co., wrote in a piece sent to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Anh recalled many experiences he has witnessed during 30 years of working in the tourist industry in the op-ed, saying these are small shortcomings that eventually result in huge damage for Vietnamese tourism.
“Many tour guides dream of the day when they will see no floating rubbish during their river tours, and no garbage will get stuck in their boat’s propellers,” Anh wrote.
Vietnam has received fewer tourists from its traditional markets such as China and Russia, and the arrival number from the EU and the U.S. have also fallen dramatically, according to the writer.
“Some travel agencies say they have lost the French and Spanish markets, while another company specializing in organizing tours for Japanese holidaymakers has failed to reach its target for the first time in ten years,” Anh said.
The top reason, according to Anh, is the global economic turbulence, which changes the way people worldwide spend their holidays.
Vacationers will either stay at home or only travel to places that are safe, do not cost much, and have a lot of fun.
“But why isn’t it Vietnam? Is it because our attractions fail to meet the expectations of the tourists?” Anh questioned.
Besides the aforementioned environmental issues, Anh said another problem lies in the safety tourists expect to have on their trips.
“Tourists are repeatedly told to keep a close watch on their belongings and beware of robbery whenever they set off for a destination in Vietnam,” Anh said.
“The vacationers are thus afraid that they can be robbed anytime, so how could they enjoy the tours leisurely? And why should they waste money traveling to such unsafe places?”
Anh also recounted some stories to prove how pollution and poor services could cost Vietnam the love of its tourists.
On March 22, a group of 22 British vacationers took a ferry to the outlying district of Can Gio in Ho Chi Minh City for a kayak expedition.
Below their seats on the ferry was nothing but litter.
One of the holidaymakers told Anh that even though it was his first-ever trip to Vietnam, he found it very difficult to take photos of the country’s beautiful landscapes because “trash is everywhere.”
On February 15, two tourists who arrived at the Chan May port in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue from the six-star Crystal cruise ship wanted to travel to the Hoi An old town in the neighboring province of Quang Nam.
A tour guide from the central city of Da Nang was invited to bring the wealthy tourists there, but he refused without any hesitation.
“You think a tourist guide like me must accompany only two tourists there?” he shouted to the manager of the tour organizer.
“The tour guide thinks he is too good to be in charge of a small group of vacationers, but what he does not know is that he could have been able to serve the richest passengers of the luxury cruise ship,” Anh commented.
On March 19, a Vietnamese tour guide spontaneously took tourists from the British cruise ship Balmoral to a shopping venue in Hoi An while they were supposed to visit a museum there. The travel agency that organized the tour then had to compensate for the tourists for the improper behavior of the tour guide.
“These issues, plus the expensive airfare to travel from the EU and the U.S. to Vietnam compared to other destinations such as Thailand and Singapore, would only drive vacationers away from Vietnam,” Anh concluded.
“Only these small examples can explain why arrivals to Vietnam keep falling.”