In recent years, more young people have volunteered to offer free guidance to tourists, particularly foreigners, in several touristy cities in Vietnam, which helps create a friendlier image for the country’s tourism sector.
The cheery young volunteers, mostly students from local universities, have celebrated their passion for tourism and love for the cities where they are living by launching groups or clubs offering free-of-charge tourist guidelines.
One of the latest groups is “Ask Me Anything,” which became operational in Hanoi in early April, Radio the Voice of Vietnam (VOV) reported.
While showing tourists around places of interest in the capital city, the members wear uniforms bearing the group’s name and a large board that says, “Hi. We speak English, French and Japanese. Just feel free to ask us any questions that you may have.”
Tran Van Tien, the group’s founder, who runs two cafés in the capital’s foreigner-frequented downtown area, told VOV that his expat clients have a great need for a wide range of information regarding scenic spots, recreation places, hotels and restaurants.
Meanwhile, many Vietnamese students generally hang around his cafés and others in the area, mingling with foreigners to improve their English speaking skills.
The idea of fusing the two needs suddenly dawned on Tien.
After three years of mapping out the project, he and his partners debuted their group, “Ask Me Anything,” over two months ago.
The group membership has surged from five to start with to the current 735, including expats, with around 20 volunteers working on a regular basis.
Many tourists said they are impressed with the group’s activity, their hospitality and helpfulness.
Tien told VOV that due to a lack of experience some group members often go ignored by passing foreign tourists or have difficulties communicating with them.
He added that the group is looking to expand its scale to the entire country, particularly such foreigner-packed cities and resort towns as Sa Pa in northern Lao Cai Province; central Da Nang City; the UNESCO-recognized Hoi An Ancient Town in central Quang Nam Province; and Ho Chi Minh City.
A 62-year-old British tourist is seen singing with his guitar in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Similarly, another group of students run “Hoi An Free Tour,” a 200-member organization, which aims to create a playground for young participants to improve their English skills and provide tour guide experience.
Nguyen Huu Man, the group leader, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that members of the organization, set up in 2014, designed a free tour for tourists who visit Hoi An in a non-profit spirit via an online forum.
“Hoi An Free Tour” currently has 45 active members who are always ready to arrange tour guide schedules every Sunday night.
They create an online meeting group and make a list of weekly tours. The members are allowed to register to be a tour guide on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday morning each week.
Each member is in charge of guiding from five to seven people.
“Hoi An Free Tour” offers its complimentary service to an average of 70 foreigners per week.
It also provides thousands of tourists with a chance to visit the Kim Bong village, which has long been known for its carpentry and traditional woodworking products; to cycle around Hoi An Ancient Town; or to make “banh trang” (rice paper) at local houses.
“What we’re up to is promoting the image of Hoi An and other regions of Vietnam through the journeys. We’re trying to expand our tourist destinations to the Tra Que vegetable village or Bay Mau coconut forest to offer visitors more choices,” said Truong Thanh Huong, vice president of “Hoi An Free Tour.”
A Vietnamese student (first left) is seen providing guidance for a group of foreign tourists in the Kim Bong carpentry village in Hoi An City, located in the central province of Quang Nam, in this Tuoi Tre file photo.
In a similar vein, members of a volunteer organization run by students in Ho Chi Minh City have spent nine dedicated years working as free tour guides for foreign visitors to Vietnam.
The organization – “Saigon Hotpot Club” – had 11 members when it was founded in 2006, with a view to giving much-needed assistance to international visitors and promoting the country’s allure.
“Foreign travelers get to know us through the recommendation of their friends who have enjoyed our services, or via our website at www.saigonhotpot.vn, or another site at tripadvisor.com.vn,” Vu Thi To Quyen, chair of the club, with 105 members now, told Tuoi Tre.
In order to use this free guide service, foreigners are required to make their bookings on the club’s website five or seven days before their tours start, Quyen added.
After making a booking, the club members will contact visitors to provide them with necessary details related to their tour guide services, she added.
Foreigners have showered compliments on the group members for their excellent English speaking skills, general knowledge and jolliness.
A foreign tourist (left) enjoys a Vietnamese dish with her free Vietnamese guide from “Saigon Hotpot Club.” Photo: Saigon Hotpot
Members of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union in Sa Dec City, located in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, has also run a similar group called “Sa Dec Flower Village Young Tour Guides” since March last year to show visitors around the Sa Dec floral village.
The village is one of the country’s major flower suppliers and exporters, particularly during Tet (Lunar New Year).
Apart from accompanying tourists to the shops and locals’ gardens in the flower village, the group members also provide them with detailed information on various kinds of flowers and how to properly tend to them.
They attend regular classes to update themselves on the latest information about new flower breeds and caretaking methods.
The group, with 13 members now, has offered services to over 22 tourist groups with nearly 1,000 domestic and international tourist arrivals.
Tourists only need to contact the People’s Committee of Tan Quy Dong Ward, where the flower village is located, or the Tan Quy Dong Ornamental Flower Cooperative to gain access to the group’s handy, helpful services.
Many local flower growers are also appreciative of the group’s services, which they said have helped boost the number of potential customers and client satisfaction, and thus facilitates their business.
Vo Thanh Tung, deputy chair of the Sa Dec City People’s Committee, told Tuoi Tre that in the long run, the city will hand over all tour guide services to young locals, which requires greater efforts to arm themselves with social, historical, cultural and tourism knowledge and soft skills.
Tram Chim National Park, which is secluded in Tam Nong District in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap. Photo: Tuoi Tre
In recent times, eight other youths in the province’s Tam Nong District have served as voluntary guides on weekends for visitors to Tram Chim National Park.
The park, which teems with many bird and waterfowl species, including rare, endangered ones like red-headed cranes, welcomes influxes of visitors on the weekend.
The tourism center at the park recently recruited two of the volunteers as employees.
All these young volunteers’ helpful tour guide services are welcoming at a time when Vietnam suffered the 12th straight monthly plunge in the number of international tourists in May, the latest in a string of worrisome issues hitting the tourist industry, which takes great pride in its numerous natural landscapes and heavenly beaches.