QUANG NINH (VNS)— Authorities in the northern coastal province of Quang Ninh want to charge tourist boats for mooring overnight in Ha Long Bay, but the plan has faced a backlash from some businesses who are arguing that it is unfair.
Director of the provincial Department of Finance Nguyen Van Minh said that the fee is designed to contribute money to the State coffers, which he said have been losing out on profits generated by provincial tourism for years.
Last year tourism in Ha Long Bay contributed about VND250 billion (US$11.9 million) to the nation, however, Minh claimed that this was not enough.
He said that the reason for the inadequate revenue was the failure of local authorities to collect all the necessary fees and taxes from companies operating in the tourism sector.
Minh added that since 2010 companies have had to pay charges for sanitation costs and a sightseeing tax. It is regulated that they should also pay fees for anchoring and staying in the bay overnight, but to date these have not been enforced due to the failure for all parties to agree on a fair charge.
The province initially planned that the overnight fee would be 2 per cent of a boat company's revenue. However, this suggestion was rejected by the Ha Long Tourist Boat Association, most of whose members later accepted a compromise of 1 per cent.
However, even this amount has been criticised by many companies as being unreasonable and unfair.
The director of the Huong Hai Ha Long Company, Bui Duc Long, argued that asking for a percentage of all revenue from tourism companies was unfair, as these enterprises offer package deals and do not just make their money from services in the bay. They profit from organising transport for their customers to and from the boat and organsing meals on land, among other things.
Furthermore, foreign-owned tourist boats staying on the bay do not have to release their income, he said.
Others have complained that it is unrealistic to collect fees based on revenue, especially during an economic downturn, as revenue does not show whether the enterprises are running at a loss.
It was suggested that some companies may earn just enough to pay staff salaries and keep boats maintained. If they are forced to pay additional fee then they could face difficulties, especially as the fees for entering and leaving ports have already doubled recently.
Chairman of the Ha Long Tourist Boat Association Dao Manh Luong said that while members recognised the need for fees in principle, it should ensure that they are reasonable and do not unfairly hinder business progress.
In a recent meeting with local tourism enterprises, the Quang Ninh Department of Finance promised that any agreed decision on fees would be well thought-out and clear. However, no decision has been reached and currently the overnight fee is not being collected, the department confirmed.
Some members of the association have suggested that the fee be based on categories such as the number of trips made by a boat and the capacity on board.
This method has been adopted in other provinces and cities, including Da Nang, where each month at least VND100,000 (US$4.7) is collected from every boat. — VNS