A new government decree that seeks to fine Vietnamese tour operators for failing to prevent tourists from illegally staying in foreign countries has generated confusion and objection from local travel agents, who claim the new penalty demands too much from tour guides.
The decree, issued in May and effective from August 1, includes four chapters and 29 articles stipulating administrative fines in the tourist sector.
Its 7th article states that a fine of VND80-90 million (US$3,500-3,900) is imposable on travel agencies which “let tourists stay abroad or in Vietnam against the law."
Local travel agents have voiced concerns over this article due to its vague wording and misconception about the role of tour operators.
Vietnam’s 2017 Law on Tourism defines the travel services business as “the planning, sale and organization of a part of or the whole tour program for tourists."
In cases where travel agents are only commissioned to help tourists with a part of their travel, such as applying for visas or planning the itinerary, it is not reasonable to hold tour operators accountable for these tourists’ disappearance while abroad, said Nguyen Tran Viet Hai, who works for a local travel agency.
Even on packaged tours, tour guides are occupied with so many different tasks that it would be asking for the moon to demand that they monitor every tourist’s whereabouts at all times, especially at night when tours often allocate free time for tourists to go shopping, Hai said.
“It’s unrealistic to demand tour guides take on the role of police officers,” he added.
If the consular offices of the destinations have enough confidence in tourists to issue their visas, Vietnamese tour operators have no reason to suspect or deny service to these tourists, he argued.
“Better management measures must be in place if the penalty is to be enforced,” Hai said.
In addition, he said, the phrase “let tourists stay abroad” as stated in the article is ambiguous and could be interpreted in many different ways.
There should be instructions on how to implement the government decree if it was to be enforced effectively in reality, Hai said.
In June, Japan announced it was suspending group visa applications for eight Vietnamese travel agencies after some of their tourists disappeared while in the East Asian country.
In December last year, around 150 Vietnamese nationals went unaccounted for after arriving in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, prompting a police investigation that resulted in five Vietnamese being arrested for sending the missing tourists to work illegally in Taiwan.