HCM CITY (VNS)— A dispute over money between a Vietnamese travel firm and its Thai partner saw 700 Vietnamese package tourists being stranded in Bangkok and ending up paying their own bills and fending for themselves.
"It was the worst tour I have ever taken in my life," said one of the unfortunate visitors, a woman who wished to remain unnamed, after arriving at HCM City's Tan Son Nhat Airport on Monday.
"We had problems right from our arrival in Bangkok. We had to wait for hours at midnight for the hotel pick-up.
"Nearly 80 people were put in a 45-seat bus.
"The hotel did not have sufficient rooms, so we were forced to stay three and four people to a room.
"We were abandoned and had to pay for everything ourselves in Thailand."
She and the others are all agents of the multi-level marketing company Herbalife, which held a seminar in Bangkok.
The 700 were among 3,000 agents who went to Thailand from June 12 to 18 for the seminar and a package tour.
They were the only ones to buy their tours from Travel Life company.
After two days at the seminar they were on their own despite having fully paid Travel Life. Its partner, Thai 2020, refused to provide them any service, saying it had not received its dues from Travel Life.
Travel Life had only paid 30 per cent of the cost, and promised to pay the rest upon the visitors' arrival. But it reportedly failed to keep its bargain.
Thai 2020 said without the payment it lacked the funds to service 700 people.
En Viet Ltd Company, a Vietnam Airlines agent, said Travel Life had booked 300 round tickets to Bangkok through another travel company and still owed VND500 million (US$23,774) for the tickets.
But it did not cancel the tickets to ensure the tourists could fly back to Viet Nam.
"We will resolve the problems with Travel Life later," it said.
Herbalife said it did not organise the tours for its distributors, only the seminar.
The stranded tourists had paid Travel Life only VND6.4-8 million.
Other operators were surprised and said a six-day, five-night tour to Thailand costs more than VND9 million ($428), yet a travel firm makes only $5-7 per person on this.
It would be impossible for Travel Life to sell tours at this price with full accommodations and transportation and insurance, they told the media.
Nguyen Thi Kim Khanh, the head of Travel Life, flew to Bangkok on June 16 to resolve the problem.
A company spokesperson admitted it had received VND4.5 billion ($213,794) from the 700 but failed to pay its Thai partner.
The Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism has summoned Khanh.
The company was established two years ago in HCM City's Tan Binh District, but, according to the department, does not have a licence for outbound tours.
None of the other 2,000-odd visitors had any problems. — VNS