Liberal casino rules sought to help tourism
Le Hung Vong
Hoteliers from HCM City have raised concerns about the draft decree on casino management that the Finance Ministry submitted to the National Assembly Standing Committee on October 8.
The draft decree states that only foreigners and overseas Vietnamese holding foreign passports are allowed to enter the casinos.
Also, only five-star hotels would be allowed to open casinos, compared to current regulations, which allow four-star hotels in HCM City and three-star hotels in other cities to have casinos.
Current regulations allow 75 machines for each four-star hotel and 100 machines for each five-star hotel.
According to the HCM City's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, more than 10 hotels in HCM City have licences to operate casinos, including the four-star hotels Duxton and De Nhat and the five-star Rex, Majestic, Caravelle, Sheraton Sai Gon Hotel&Towers, Equatorial and Movenpick.
Tao Van Nghe, general director of the Rex Hotel, told Thoi Bao Kinh Te Sai Gon (Sai Gon Economic Times), that the five-star standard was determined according to service quality, not the number of rooms. "Thus, there are many five-star hotels with fewer rooms than lower-grade hotels."
Dang Huy Hai, deputy general director of the 533-room New World Hotel, said the Government should allow four-star hotels to carry on with their casino service, saying there was no major difference in service quality between these two kinds of hotels.
He said authorities should take a more liberal view of casino services and consider it a way to attract tourists.
Tourism and trade centres with international air gateways like HCM City should build a casino-tourism-entertainment complex to lure visitors, stimulating tourism development, he added.
Under the proposed decree, the Finance Ministry said that investors must have at least US$4 billion worth of capital and 10 years of experience in tourism management to be allowed to open casinos in Viet Nam.
Also, investors would receive an operation licence when they complete construction on a tourism, service and entertainment complex where the casino is located.
They are also required to have brand-new machines with adequate origins and technical certificates at their venues.
As for whether Viet Nam should be more open to casinos, many experts support the idea but warn that administrative authorities should be cautious.
Dr Le Dang Doanh, a renowned economist from Ha Noi, advised the Government of Viet Nam to ensure that casino operations remain under the authorities' close scrutiny.
Casinos are complicated businesses, even though they bring in huge profits. Even developed Singapore has failed to adequately prevent the negative societal effects of gambling, said Doanh.
He asked authorities to learn from the lessons gained at Do Son Casino in the northern city of Hai Phong, where local gamblers have offered bribes so they could play. However, many have ended up losing all of their property.
Doanh added that the casinos should only be located on islands such as Phu Quoc in southern Kien Giang Province and Van Don in northern Quang Ninh Province.
"It's not an appropriate move to put a casino near cultural and political centres, or in areas with high population density," he said.
Meanwhile, Professor Nguyen Mai, the former deputy chairman of the State Committee for Cooperation and Investment, who supports casino operations in Viet Nam, said the country should limit the number of casinos.
Travel firms turn their back on traditional fests
Local travel agencies are not warming to the idea proposed by the National Administration for Tourism and the Hai Phong authority for next year's Song Hong (Red River) Delta – Hai Phong National Tourism Year 2013.
According to VNAT's general director Nguyen Van Tuan, some 30 festivals would be organised within the framework of National Tourism Year 2013 which would take place in Hai Phong and 12 other provinces and cities. But the news about the event, which aims to attract Vietnamese and foreign travellers, has not attracted much attention from tour operators.
The organisers have designed many traditional festivals for the national programme. However, travel agencies want to see attractive tourist products and an improvement in tourism infrastructure rather than costly traditional festivals.
Nguyen Van My, director of the HCM City-based Lua Viet Travel Agency, said tour operators were not interested in traditional festivals.
My explained that when a traditional festival was organised in a locality, the service fees tend to soar in the city, making it difficult for travel agencies to book hotel rooms for tourists.
"Why don't we turn the Bach Dang River area, where there are iron stakes used to fight against Chinese invaders, into an excursion site? Why do we have to place the historical stakes in museums?" My was quoted as saying in Sai Gon Tiep Thi (Sai Gon Marketing) newspaper.
Travel firms also said the national tourism year campaigns were not taken seriously because there were no original tourism products, and tourism sites had not been improved. In addition, there has been little improvement in infrastructure over the last eight campaigns.
Meanwhile, VNAT has not been able to assess the efficiency of the national tourism year campaigns in relation to investment costs.
Rice shortage looming
Chinese traders' purchases of large volumes of rice over the last several months could lead to shortages facing northern provinces, according to the Viet Nam Food Association (VFA).
To ensure food security for the region during this period, VFA has asked the Northern Food Corp (Vinafood 1) to draw up an inventory of the volume of rice in stock from its subsidiaries, according to the VFA chairman, Truong Thanh Phong, who spoke at a meeting held recently to review rice exports for the first nine months of the year.
Phong asked VFA members not to hastily sign contracts for export of large volumes of rice and urged them to keep a close eye on rice trade through the border with Cambodia and China.
Phong said he was concerned that "statistics on unplanned exports of Vietnamese rice to Cambodia and imports of Cambodian paddy to Viet Nam were unavailable."
Experts estimate that 500,000 tonnes of paddy have been sold fromViet Nam to Thailand via Cambodia through unplanned border trade this year, without quotas and contracts signed in advance.
Nguyen Van Tien, general director of the An Giang Import-Export Co. (Angimex), said that in August alone, more than 400,000 tonnes of Vietnamese rice had been transported to Cambodia for export to Thailand via the southwestern provinces that share a border with Cambodia.
At the My Thoi Port in An Giang Province, 570,000 tonnes of rice were shipped in August.
Only 100,000 tonnes of this amount were slated for buyers who had already signed quotas with Vietnamese firms.
Despite large volumes of rice sold to Cambodia and China in unplanned trade, VFA said that rice exports in 2012 would exceed last year's figures.
VFA members have large volumes of rice in reserve, so they can meet all the signed export quotas and ensure national food security while waiting for next year's rice crops, according to Phong.
The VFA said that paddy/rice prices had risen again in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta after rainy days in the last two weeks.
On Monday afternoon, traders in the provinces of Dong Thap, An Giang and Vinh Long purchased dried normal paddy for VND5,800 per kilo and fragrant paddy for VND6,500 to VND6,600 per kilo.
Traders from Dong Thap, Tien Giang and Can Tho also bought unpolished rice to be processed into 5 per cent broken rice for VND7,900 per kilo and 15 per cent broken rice for VND7,700 per kilo.
Early this month, paddy prices in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta dropped from VND4,900 – 5,000 per kilo from mid-September to VND3,600-4,400 per kilo, because the rainy weather had affected rice quality, Phong said. — VNS