The return of ‘$0 tours’ has once again revealed the shady business behind commission-based, Chinese-only stores.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered the northern province of Quang Ninh to investigate reports of Chinese tour scams following a sudden jump in the number of Chinese visitors in March.
Quang Ninh authorities are also instructed to deal with any violations seriously, a government statement said Wednesday.
The government order was issued after Mong Cai Border Gate, the main entrance from China into Quang Ninh, recently reported that the number of Chinese arrivals via the gate has increased to 5,000 per day, and even 10,000-15,000 over the weekends, which is two to three times higher than usual.
But according to local media reports, Vietnamese tourism experts blame the return of what they call “$0 tours” for the unusual influx of Chinese tourist arrivals in Quang Ninh. These tours are run by Chinese travel firms who bring tourists to the world-renowned Ha Long Bay for free before “selling” them to their counterparts in Vietnam.
Once they arrive in Quang Ninh, their sightseeing trips are cut and tourists are led into a number of stores that sell commodities listed at rip-off prices. Commission is paid to the tour companies for bringing visitors to the shops, which reportedly are only open to Chinese customers and discriminate against Vietnamese locals and tourists.
Since last year, authorities have exposed and punished several stores of this kind in Dong Trieu District and the towns of Mong Cai, Ha Long and Uong Bi. The stores were accused of overcharging tourists and damaging the reputation of Vietnam’s tourism industry.
Most of them were thought to have closed after being exposed by media reports and receiving fines from local authorities in the latter half of 2016.
In 2016, Quang Ninh welcomed about 1.6 million Chinese tourists via the Mong Cai Border Gate.