A Vietnamese man has been fined after taking his partners from Japan to explore the famous tourist city of Hue, as authorities believed him to be an unlicensed tour guide.
Tran Van Man, deputy head of a company based in the southern province of Binh Duong, immediately sent a complaint to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper after being fined VND5 million (US$223) for what he considers an unreasonable penalty.
According to his account, Man was visiting the famed Thien Mu Pagoda with his Japanese guests on Monday when the city’s tourism inspectors pulled him over.
“They asked if I have the tour guide license with me,” the businessman recalled. “I said no because I’m not a tour guide.”
Despite Man’s explanation, he was eventually fined VND5 million for lacking the paper.
“I know Hue is trying to tighten management over its tourism sector, but the penalty was too rigid,” he said.
Hue is the capital of Thua Thien-Hue Province, a must-visit destination in central Vietnam, alongside Da Nang and Hoi An.
Nguyen Thanh Hoa, deputy head of the provincial tourism inspectorate, confirmed to Tuoi Tre that he had booked Man’s case and issued the fine for “unlicensed guiding activities.”
Hoa said Man proved that he works for a company removed from the tourism industry, “but he failed to prove that the Japanese guests were his company’s partners,” Hoa said.
“Man guided the foreigners around the attraction without a tour guide license, a breach of tourism regulations.”
A storm of criticism
Man’s experience with tourism inspectors has left members of the public wondering if they may one day be in the same shoes.
“What if my foreign friends ask me to show them my hometown and the inspectors request my tour guide license?” many of them wrote toTuoi Tre.
Another reader suggested people “keep silent when guiding their foreign friends around, especially while visiting Thien Mu Pagoda,” to avoid catching the attention of inspectors.
Tuoi Tre brought these questions to Hoa, the tourism inspectorate deputy chief, with the official claiming that “as per the law, within the tourism attractions, anyone who gives introduction must have a tour guide license; otherwise they are deemed violators.”
In the case of Man, if he has papers proving that the visitors are really his company’s partners, “we will help him find a proper tour guide for the foreigners.”
Hoa said the regulations are rigid in order to curb illegal tourism activities, but these explanations by the inspector do not seem to please the public.
Citing his words, Tuoi Tre readers continued to joke that people are now banned from introducing the attractions by themselves, no matter how knowledgeable they are about the places, as “anyone who gives introduction must possess a tour guide license.”
“If I am showing off my knowledge about a place to my wife, and the inspectors ask me to prove that she is really my wife, not my customer. What should I do?” another reader joked.
Others expressed their hope that Vietnamese tourism inspectors could take such a swift response when dealing with the huge number of illegal Chinese tour guides in Da Nang or Nha Trang.
From a legal perspective, lawyer Le Cao from the Da Nang Bar Association, said it is the inspectors that need to prove Man guilty of illegally working as a tour guide, rather than asking him to prove himself innocent.
“If people receiving these fines have to prove their innocence, it is possible that anyone can be pulled over and slapped with a penalty. This sets a dangerous precedent,” the lawyer said.