|Tourists explore the nipa palm forest in Cẩm Thanh Commune, Hội An. — VNS Photo Công Thành|
HỘI AN — With the number of street vendors increasing along with the exponential rise in popularity of Hoi An Town, the very factors that made it attractive – its pristine settings and quietness – are under threat.
Authorities are now planning to take firm steps to restore some of the original tranquility of the town by “rearranging” street venders and reorganizing coracle services in Cẩm Thanh Village, touted as an eco-tourist destination.
Nguyễn Văn Sơn, vice chairman of the city People’s Committee, said they started planning these moves last July and would start executing them this month.
Sơn said street vendors selling snacks and souvenirs was part of the old image of Hội An Town, but their profusion was disturbing the quiet lifestyle of Hội An’s original traders.
He said some illegal vendors were harassing tourists and charging very high prices, and creating chaos in the process.
“Street vendors carrying their wares on shoulder poles used to sell tofu, sweet soup, clay toys and handmade souvenirs in Hội An. It’s a part of the town’s culture, residents bringing their own products to sell.
“These vendors were quiet, but the situation has gone from bad to worse in recent years as many vendors occupy pedestrian streets and paths, and urge tourists to buy their products,” Sơn said.
He said authorities had warned vendors about such behaviour before deciding to take action.
The town has banned floating restaurants along the Hoài River bank on Bạch Đằng street.
“At first, only a few boat owners modified their boats into floating restaurants serving tourists for short periods of time, but over the last five years or so, 20 boats have been operating illegally.
“These boats often dock for days and nights on the river banks and spoil the scenery of the Hoài River in the eyes of tourists,” Sơn said, adding that these restaurants were also discharging untreated waste into the river.
The town plans to eject vendors selling products of unclear origin including Chinese toys and unsafe snacks from the old quarter – Cẩm Phô, Minh An and Sơn Phong streets – which are usually crowded with tourists.
The sale of “unsuitable” tourism souvenirs will also be stopped.
Authorities will encourage local vendors selling traditional, handmade products like lanterns, terracotta toys, bamboo souvenirs and snacks that are typical to Hội An and surrounding regions.
The nipa palms in Cẩm Thanh village – a favourite eco-tourism site – have also become a noisy, messy place with the illegal operation of coracles in a section of the Thu Bồn River.
Providing coracle rides has been a good source of income for villagers and fishermen in recent years, but several residents have started offering the service without a licence.
Trần Văn Khoa, who runs the Jack Tran tours company, said the coracles were operating illegally in waters off the Vạn Lăng Hamlet.
“They (owners of illegal boats) dock their boats in the nipa palm area. They install loud speakers on the coracles, disturbing the quiet,” Khoa ranted in his Facebook page.
"Furthermore, they do not require tourists to wear life-jackets as required," he said.
The illegal service providers also undercut legitimate firms by offering low prices to lure tourists, Khoa said.
Nguyễn Tuấn Liên, who runs a travel agency, said around 90 households with 110 coracles charged VNĐ100,000 (US$4.4) each trip, but the unlicensed boat owners were offering the same service for VNĐ75,000 ($3.3).
Officials have acknowledged the situation.
Lê Thanh, Chairman of Cẩm Thanh Commune, admitted unfair competition was happening in the eco-tour site. He said strict regulations on tour services in the site would be issued soon to settle the disturbance of recent months.
Khoa suggested that Hội An bans all illegal actions like fishing, catching crabs and cutting leaves of nipa palms in Cẩm Thanh.
He also wanted training courses held for local residents on tourism services and skills. Strict safety measures had to be imposed for coracle paddling services in the river, he said.
The UNESCO-recognised world heritage town welcomed 2.6 million tourists last year, half of them foreigners. — VNS