| Son Doong Cave.
A gate of Son Doong Cave. — Photo plo
by Khanh Van
It is not often that one offers a surprise New Year gift that recipients are not thankful for.
The central province of Quang Binh has managed this with ease.
With virtually no warning, the province doubled the admission fees for caves that have put it on the world tourism map.
Sadly, Quang Binh is not the only locality to have done this over the last several months.
Some local authorities have explained that the increase in the fees was essential to fund preservation work as well as improvements in services. Even if this was true, the way the fees have been increased is unacceptable.
No one would begrudge the increase in fees for legitimate reasons, if a clear roadmap had been drawn first. Doing this abruptly with no explanation and no preparation time has created many difficulties for travel firms that operate tours booked well in advance (six months to a year). That this has happened after they'd already increased tour prices based on rising input costs (electricity, food, airfares) worsens the problem.
We also have to remember that the national tourism promotion programme has called on travel agencies to reduce tour fees in order to attract more tourists.
Ongoing economic woes have hit many sectors hard, including the tourism sector, but this does not justify the increase in fees when other factors are taken into account, in which case it can be seen as a short-sighted move.
When authorities in the northern province of Lao Cai decided to triple the entrance fees for the Ham Rong Mountain, the number of tourists dropped by 80 per cent.
Nguyen Van Tuan, Chairman of the Viet Nam National Tourism Administration (VNAT) said at a recent conference that as a seller, we needed to be proactive.
In addition to showing customers what we offer, we should introduce the product clearly and offer special deals if necessary, he said.
Increasing prices suddenly does not sound like a special deal.
Localities should be aware that entrance ticket price fees are only secondary sources of income, the primary ones being generated from other services like food and accommodation, not to mention shopping. Taking the risk of harming the whole industry for initial gains is, as remarked earlier, short-sighted.
And, as was also mentioned earlier, the increase in fees would be accepted if it was backed with real improvements in services. However, I doubt that a significant turnaround can happen suddenly with existing infrastructure and after years of average or poor services.
At this point, it would make sense to see what others, our competitors, are doing.
As far as destinations go, Viet Nam can stand on its own. We have sites of great beauty and historical and cultural significance.
However, it is also true that we have been losing out to other nations because our tourism services are not professional enough.
We can also see that other tourism markets in Asia have launched and are launching major promotion campaigns with big discounts and attractive gifts.
South Korea, for example, has become a favoured destination after the waiver of visa fees for Vietnamese tourists visiting the country's Jeju Island.
While studying in Germany three years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to receive fifty per cent discounts on tickets to some tourist sites and others declaring that the fees were being waived completely. I was told that the preferred policy was to provide opportunities for visitors to access as many tourist sites as possible so that they would learn more about the country.
To contend with such quality competition, Viet Nam has to rethink its tourism priorities and direct its efforts to making the tourism sector more professional, reliable and reasonable.
Tourism is one of the country's key economic sectors, making significant contributions to the socio-economic development. It brought in a record VND230 trillion (US$10.9 billion) into the country last year, a 15 per cent increase over the previous year, welcoming nearly 7.8 million foreigners and 37.5 million domestic visitors.
Sacrificing relatively small, immediate gains for long-term, sustainable profits makes more than economic sense. It will help create a positive image of the country that it can bank on.
If we don't do it, by default, it will be our competitors shaking in mirth all the way to the bank. — VNS