A tour to the famous Cham Islands off the coast of Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam is being offered at 30 percent lower than the minimal price set by authorities, as a price war heats up among local travel companies.
The Cham Islands, known in Vietnamese as Cu Lao Cham, are a group of eight small islands which consitute the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, a World Biosphere Reserve recognized by UNESCO in 2009. The main island is 15 square meters in area.
It takes about 15 minutes to travel by speedboat to get to Cu Lao Cham from Cua Dai Port in Hoi An, a touristy city in Quang Nam.
Fearing that the Cham Islands will become crowded with tourists, Quang Nam authorities have recently limited the number of people on the islands and now prefer quality to quantity, imposing a price control on tours to the destination.
The emerging tourism spot for beach-goers could receive up to 6,000 visitors a day during peak time, nearly double its 3,000-tourist capacity, according to Tran Thi Hong Thuy, director of the Cham Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA).
A tour of the Cham Islands is not allowed to cost less than VND650,000 (US$28) per customer, a price threshold supported by local travel firms, according to Hoi An chairman Nguyen Van Son.
Such a price control is intended to help authorities restrict the number of visitors to the Cham Islands and ensure the interests of tour organizers, Son added.
It is also believed that with such a relatively high price threshold, businesses are encouraged to offer quality services to tourists.
But some travel agencies in Quang Nam just refuse to adopt that sustainable development approach, as all they care about is to make quick money, even at the expense of the environment and reputation of Cu Lao Cham.
|Visitors crowd the Cham Islands, off the central province of Quang Nam. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre|
Cheaper price, worse service
Son said a number of local tour organizers are known to offer to take tourists to the Cham Islands for only VND400,000-450,000 ($17-19) per visitor, roughly 30 percent lower than the required minimal rate.
“It may be tolerable if these enterprises still ensure quality services for their ‘affordable’ tour prices, but the reality has proved otherwise,” Son added.
“The cheap tour packages only come with poor service quality.”
Visitors who bought tours to the Cham Islands at such cheap prices complained that they were crammed into fully-packed canoes, being treated unprofessionally, and having to pay for every service they used on the islands as it turned out what they had purchased were not all-in-one tickets as they were supposed to be.
This kind of unhealthy competition has upset honest tour operators, who adhere to the price threshold set by local authorities. These businesses are afraid that the unreliable travel companies will leave a bad impression on visitors, making them turn their back on the destination.
There are also dishonest tour organizers who conform to the price threshold when selling their tours, but omit several fundamental services from their packages.
“Many tourists told us they were too disappointed by the poor service quality on the Cham Islands that they would never return there,” said a representative of a travel company.
Discussing the issue with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Son said his administration will soon have measures to deal with the unfair pricing competition among local travel firms in order to protect the reputation of the tourist destination.