The low-cost tours may raise revenue, but that cash may not be ending up in Vietnam’s state coffers.
Vietnam needs to manage Chinese-sponsored “$0 tours” by controlling quality, tightening foreign exchange rates and closing shops that only serve foreigners to protect visitors and guarantee incomes, a Vietnamese government tourism official said.
Branded as “$0 tours”, the service is offered by Chinese travel firms that bring tourists to Vietnam for free before “selling” them to their counterparts. After arriving, Chinese tourists are often forced to buy food, accommodation and gifts at inflated prices.
However, the “$0 tours” have actually been creating jobs for locals and become a source of income in Vietnam, said Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).
During the low season, the service still sends tourists and keeps business stable for airlines and tour operators, he told reporters on Wednesday.
The northern province of Quang Ninh earns VND330 billion ($14.6 million) every year from just visa fees and selling tickets to the world-renowned Ha Long Bay to Chinese tourists who arrive by land, Tuan said.
Overall, revenue from Chinese visitors arriving by land generates up to VND1 trillion for Quang Ninh, and around 3,500 local residents are employed in the tourism sector, he added.
However, a surge of Chinese tourists to particular areas has led to public disorder, while stores backed by Chinese companies are costing Vietnam valuable tax revenue, Tuan said.
Violations also include illegal Chinese tour guides, Chinese visitors being ripped off and tours being canceled, he said.
Authorities in Vietnam should look at the quality of these budget tours, and tax and market inspectors should work closely together to ensure foreign exchange rates are fair. Shops open only to Chinese tourists should also be closed, Tuan said.
Low-cost tours are also available for Chinese tourists wishing to visit the central city of Da Nang and the resort town of Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa.
Nearly 1 million Chinese visitors arrived in Vietnam in the first three months of 2017, a surge of 63.5 percent from the corresponding period last year, VNAT data showed.
Last month, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered Quang Ninh authorities to investigate reports of tour scams after Chinese arrivals via the Mong Cai Border Gate jumped to 5,000 per day on week days, and 10,000-15,000 over the weekends, around two to three times higher than usual.