Worrying Halong Bay fees

Quang Ninh Province government has finally refrained from a plan to hike fees for visitors to the World Heritage site of Halong Bay given objections by travel firms and tourists.

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At a recent press meeting, the provincial government stressed that a scheme submitted by Halong Bay Management Board to hike fees from early 2019 had not been approved.

Such an assertion gives a provisional relief to travel firms and tourists alike, who have voiced strong protests against the scheme. As widely reported, Halong Bay Management Board had sought approval from the provincial government to steeply raise tour fees on the bay.

The board, with its scheme, sought to almost double the sightseeing and staying fee for each passenger from VND550,000 to VND950,000 a night, or some US$42, while the two-day fee would also rocket from VND750,000 to VND1.3 million, or some US$58 a passenger. Such fees exclude dining and ship-rental services. It is noteworthy that Halong Bay Management Board earlier already strongly raised such fees in April last year.

The newly-proposed fees, according to travel firms, are very high compared to regional destinations, even to world-famous sites in Cambodia. For example, a one-day pass to Ankor Wat now stands at US$37 a visitor, while a seven-day pass is US$72.

The high fees imposed on visitors to Halong Bay, while helping raise income for the province’s tourism industry, will adversely affect Vietnam’s tourism competitiveness, hindering the Government’s efforts to turn tourism into a major economic sector. More worryingly, several localities across the country have lately raised fees on tourists visiting their beauty spots, and coupled with the loose management by State agencies over other tourism-related services, high prices will frustrate and discourage visitors.

Vietnam has recently emerged as a favorite destination for international visitors, as evidenced by strong growth in international arrivals. This year to date, the country has welcomed 9.08 million international tourists, rising 25.4% year-on-year. Last year, the country saw over 12.92 million guests, a year-on-year upsurge of nearly 30%.

However, such numbers still lag far behind other countries in the region like Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, the last-named expecting to welcome 37.6 million this year. Higher fees, therefore, will drive visitors away to other regional destinations in a time of tough tourism competition.

Furthermore, raising fees is not the right way for sustainable tourism development. The crucial point in attracting and retaining tourists is to offer products and services that are value for money.

To ensure the country’s healthy and sustainable tourism development, it is better not to allow for spontaneous fee hikes as seen in the recent past. While a fee increase is decided by the provincial People’s Council, there should be a national oversight committee – which could possibly be the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism – to coordinate all such plans to ensure that benefits for a single locality will not do harm to the national development goal.

Saigon Times

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