Tourism officials and insiders have voiced concerns over the safety of adventure tours following the tragic death of three British tourists at a waterfall in the Central Highlands resort town of Da Lat last week.
The three vacationers died on Friday afternoon when they were trekking at Datanla Waterfall, an emerging destination for adventure game buffs in Da Lat, the capital city of Lam Dong Province.
The trio were on a package organized by Da Lat Passion Travel - Service Limited Company, and guided by a Vietnamese tour guide.
Le Viet Luc, director of Dalat Tourist Co., which manages the Datanla waterfall attraction, earlier said the deceased tourists had not bought tickets for trekking, and therefore did not have the proper safety equipment for trekking activities.
Shortly after the tragedy, the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism convened an urgent meeting with around 15 local adventure tour operators and relevant agencies on Saturday morning.
Speaking at the meeting, department director Nguyen Thi Nguyen admitted the accident was an extremely serious mishap detrimental to the local tourist industry.
She revealed that though most adventure game providers throughout the province had obtained permits, competent agencies have failed to inspect their service quality, including premises, staff, and the origin of specialized gear.
As per regulations, these companies are only required to register with the provincial Department of Planning and Investment before the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism considers their applications for international travel service provision licenses.
Inside Tu Lan Cave System, a popular adventure destination located approximately 70 kilometers from the UNESCO-recognized Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to Son Doong Grotto – the world’s largest – in the north-central province of Quang Binh. Photo: Ryan Deboodt
“The provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism only have internal-use inspection certificates verifying operators’ eligibility in organizing adventure tours. However, these are not the main permits,” Nguyen noted.
Mai Viet Dang, the department’s chief inspector, said that operators were requested to come to the department at least five times and were warned about safety regulations and the perils of adventure tourism in early 2015.
It is not uncommon for travel firms to take their customers to Datanla Waterfall and other adventure game venues without buying tickets, he acknowledged.
Some tour organizers offering journeys at considerably lower prices than others tend to dodge the entrance ticket fees to offset the cheap prices, a local tour operator revealed.
According to a number of tour operators present at the Saturday meeting, adventure tours are rich in growth potential, but have developed indiscriminately over the past ten years.
They added that such services have boomed in the last two years, but have spiraled out of control regarding service quality and an unhealthy rivalry has formed among providers.
Vo Duc Trung, director of Viet Adventure JSC, who has 10 years of experience in operating this form of tour, said he is shocked by the lack of professionalism displayed by a number of his contenders.
“Some companies send only two tour guides to accompany up to 20 or 30 tourists, who often engage in the games without buying tickets or being given proper protective gear,” he added.
Mai Vinh, a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter, was once horrified to discover a safety hook used by an adventure game provider at Datanla Waterfall had been worn out by half.
His complaint met with an indifferent reply from the tour guide, “Our gear is of good quality, so such wear and tear is not a cause for concern.”
The guide later reluctantly replaced the worn-out hook with another, as Vinh refused to canyon down the cascade with the worn equipment.
Foreign tourists delight at the canyoning game at Datanla Waterfall in Da Lat City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Indispensable life experiences
Nguyen Minh Trung, a years-long vacationer and later operator in adventure tours, finds such expeditions a necessary experience for youths.
Those joining such thrill-seeking excursions must be armed with the skills and a sense of discipline to strictly comply with safety regulations, he stressed.
“Apart from heeding warnings in the media, adventure tourists are also supposed to have real-life involvement, which helps sharpen their ability to sense hazards beforehand and keep their composure in times of danger,” Trung underlined.
Meanwhile, Tran Dinh Tho Khoi, director of Dalat Green Adventour, highlighted the role of tour guides, and instructors.
“A tour guide is supposed to be well trained and experienced in adventure excursions and willing to provide sufficient assistance and information for vacationers,” he elaborated.
Khoi stressed that as local tour guides have yet to obtain work certificates specifically for adventure outings, it is no surprise that several who generally lead tourists around serene places of interest across Da Lat do not hesitate to guide such adventure-seeking tours.
He also called for thorough tour guide training and stringent testing as well as the establishment of an organization which stipulates necessary rules for practitioners to adhere to.
A 10-year British veteran in adventure tourism in Vietnam and abroad, who wished to remain anonymous, urged tourists to strictly obey safety rules.
For instance, both professional and amateur mountaineers must obey a rule of thumb: not working out any new, uncharted climbing tracks in unfamiliar destinations by any means, he cautioned.
Likewise, Nguyen Chau A, general director of tour operator Oxalis, suggested that local tourism authorities categorize thrill-seeking tourism into adventure tours, perilous tours, and adventure sports, and come up with specific regulations for each category.
Oxalis offers excursions to Son Doong Cave – the world’s largest – and neighboring grottos in the north-central province of Quang Binh.
Adventure touring has its dangers reduced thanks to the proper use of safety gear, skills and knowledge, while perilous expeditions comprise specific hazards which tourists are made fully aware of and are willing to take on.
Meanwhile, adventure sports include activities not for the faint-hearted and bring with them the risks of injury, Chau A explained.
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