For years, Vietnam enjoyed a reputation as a destination where tourists were relatively safe from petty thieves and bag snatchers foreigners encounter worldwide. That has changed.
Vietnam is considering creating an English-speaking tourism police force to treat foreign visitors kindly and crack down on anyone who hassles them. That’s because a slowdown in visits to Vietnam was attributed in part to experiences like that of a Chinese tourist who was robbed at knife point by a taxi driver last month in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Like most sectors in Vietnam, tourism has become a huge, and fast-growing business — $7.6 in revenue last year (6% of GDP). Foreign tourists increased from 1.4 million in 1995 to nearly 7 million in 2012. The growth in Vietnamese traveling in their own country is even greater — up 7 million to 33 million over the same period.
So far in 2013 foreign visitors increased 2.6% over last, compared to 14% and 18% the previous two years. Authorities say the decline has been accompanied by more incidents of swindling, extortion and hassling — especially in Hanoi, Saigon, and beach areas. Also, a new European Union-funded survey of tourist facilities finds that languages and soft skills remain a big problem for Vietnam’s tourism industry.
The prime minister has ordered his government to make sure Vietnam is safe and friendly. Police have been told to be friendly to visitors and step up patrols in tourism destinations — eliminating thieves, aggressive street vendors, and extorting taxi drivers. Also, each large tourist destinations will open an assistance center for tourists.