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Swindlers must suffer if nation wants to portray positive image

Update: May, 10/2013 - 08:34

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Are local loudspeakers annoying you?

Loa phuong – the local loudspeaker network or public address system – has become a topic for discussion lately in Viet Nam, with many debating the need for its continued existence.

With speakers normally resting on poles or street lamps at a height where every nearby local can hear them loud and clear, loa phuong is said to originate from the 1950s, when it would raise the alarm before bombing raids during the American War.

Now the loudspeakers provide local people with news, songs and information at dawn and dusk.

Writer Terence Carter recently reflected on a three-month stay in Ha Noi in The Independent. He recalled: "Most mornings we were woken at 6.45am by announcements broadcast in Vietnamese on loudspeakers from the local Communist Party office, followed by rousing patriotic tunes inexplicably set to salsa beat."

To many Vietnamese people, the loudspeakers have become an important source of news in the country. They also see the system as their alarm clock, helping them wake up every morning for exercise and reminding them when it is time to cook dinner.

However, some see them as an unnecessary annoyance, particularly in this technological era where information is widely available online.

What is your experience of the public address system in Viet Nam? Does it annoy you? Is it still relevant in 2013? Should residents be responsible for deciding the time and the content of broadcasts?

Please reply by email to: opinion@vnsmail.com, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 79 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, May 16, 2013. — VNS

Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers what Viet Nam can do to ensure foreign tourists leave with a good image of the country and access legal help if necessary.

Recently, authorities have made efforts to punish those who overcharge tourists. At the time, Viet Nam had just welcomed 610,000 foreign visitors in April, a 2.4 per cent fall on the previous year.

Here are some responses:

Kai Partale, Germany, Ha Noi

This situation of taxis overcharging unsuspecting tourists is not new and can indeed sour a person's travel experience. I feel however, that there are a number of issues combining to impact on international tourism visits to Viet Nam.

For example, the recent increase in visa fees will make Viet Nam a less competitive destination compared to neighbours such as Singapore and Thailand, who offer free visas for most nationalities. With a family of four having to pay almost US$200 just to enter the country, the option of visiting Viet Nam suddenly becomes less attractive.

The Vietnamese government also needs to increase its budget for destination marketing as neighbouring countries Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia spend considerably more on tourism promotion.

Systems, procedures and accountability to measure performance and results and private sector collaboration could also be better encouraged.

Quality standards in hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and transport operations are also generally lacking, thus resulting in growing negative word of mouth. Greater support needs to be provided to industry associations, as well as planning and regulatory authorities to implement, monitor and evaluate quality standards.

The Viet Nam Tourism Occupational Standards System also needs expansion to ensure visitors receive a great service experience that meets or exceeds expectations.

Finally, mass tourism is threatening Viet Nam's many cultural and natural heritage sites, resulting in issues of over - or uneven development, cultural conflict, the destruction of natural environments and economic leakages.

Adopting a responsible tourism policy must revolve around putting Responsible Tourism principles into practice, for tourism producers and consumers will help ensure that Viet Nam has a more sustainable tourism industry in future.

John Kellas, Australian, Hue

Western tourists are no doubt seen as being very affluent compared to the residents of some countries they may be visiting and so may be a target for unscrupulous locals. From my experiences visiting and also living in Viet Nam, it is a friendly and safe country.

The internet provides a ready source of information for visitors to have an idea of what fares and hotel costs will be and the travel guides warn visitors of the likely scams they will encounter to ensure they are aware.

To try to avoid the usual scams, one feature that we found very helpful in Viet Nam was the listing of the costs for buses and taxis from Ha Noi and HCM City airports to the respective cities. Elsewhere we found travel/tourist desks providing fixed priced vouchers for these types of trips. We also found the signage on taxis indicating the rates to be charged very handy.

We only had two instances in 13 months where the taxi drivers attempted to defraud us - both had fast meters and were not part of the major taxi companies. In both instances, we paid what we assumed was a fair and reasonable fare as neither driver insisted on the meter fare, realising that we had enough experience to know they were trying to deceive us.

That the Viet Nam Tourism Administration has compensated some tourists who have been defrauded by unscrupulous operators is very heartening for visitors. However, I do not believe that these few cases would be contributing to the drop in tourist numbers.

Often foreign destinations become trendy and experience a surge in visitor numbers, which eventually slows back to a more sustainable level. Viet Nam has been one of those places which has boomed in recent times, and the slowing of tourist growth may simply be a reflection of changing trends, so it is important to maintain the high standards the administration has developed.

Viet Nam is an excellent country to visit with lovely landscapes, big vibrant cities, important historical sites with lovely lakes and beaches, together with the Ha Long World Heritage Site.

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi

The Tourism Administration's recent high-level help is some rare great news for Viet Nam. Tourists and expats provide easy money and targets for greedy locals to exploit.

As a world traveller and solo adventurer I have been targeted and robbed in Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Panama, and Viet Nam. I am far from foolish or naive. The world is a dangerous place and Viet Nam can do much to restore and improve its image.

It can set up tourist police similar to Thailand's existing service. Also, where are the multi-lingual website and toll-free phone number? In addition to streamlining an open, inexpensive visa service, Viet Nam and ASEAN desperately need to modernise, standardise and generally improve their transparency and accountability.

Tourists are fickle and will flee from real and perceived danger. I have lots of stories to recount when I return home. Along with the good, the fun and the exciting, I will have to warn my fellow Canadians.

Bui Phuong Anh, Vietnamese, HCM City

It's definitely a good sign that in the recent cases, even the top-level tourism official came personally to apologise to the foreign tourist who was ripped off.

But how many more cases can expect the same treatment?

The problem is not unique to Viet Nam, obviously, but it's definitely a warning sign that the number of foreign tourists is decreasing.

My Japanese friend was robbed and lost her purse in HCM City, which contained her passport. It was a major burden to get back the necessary paperwork and we couldn't seek any help from the local police.

There are hotlines but how can we make sure we have staff who can at least understand English so foreign tourists can call? I think there should be a warning list and a system for ranking hotels, tourism places and other businesses, indicating clearly where unscrupulous practices are found. — VNS



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