How the law should better protect tourists' rights was among the topics at the workshop chaired by Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism and Viet Nam Tourism Association (VITA) in Ha Noi yesterday.
VITA's Deputy Chairman Vu The Binh said although there was a chapter in the law that stipulated tourism consumers, the content was poorly constructed. The protection of tourists' rights was not clearly stated in the law in terms of accountability and representation.
"For example, under the current law, when tourists want to file a complaint, they are advised to contact the provincial-level State agency in charge of tourism. In reality even if they attempt to make a call to the agency, it's very likely that the only person they can talk to is the guard who apparently can't co-ordinate their claims."
Binh emphasised it was thus very important to make it crystal clear which agencies and officials should be held accountable for protecting tourists' rights, including the settlement of tourist claims, especially at popular destinations. Otherwise tourists' concerns could not be addressed in a timely and efficient fashion.
"Some people have talked about setting up a hotline for tourist claims. Why bother doing that, if no one at the receiving end will ever pick up the phone? Things will work out if and only if someone is held responsible."
Speaking of protecting tourists, Pham Tien Dung, director of Ha Noi-based Golden Tour Company, said it would be better if there was a tourist police unit in place for prompt responses to concerns.
Dung said the practice of requiring tour operators to deposit a certain amount of money as a guarantee of their financial capacity to deal with possible tourists' incidents proved to be of no use at all.
"There has never been a tourist whose trouble has been settled with the money from this deposit fund. So the deposit funds only benefit the banks where money is kept at zero interest while contributing nothing to the development of the industry."
He said he believed that mandatory travel insurance would be a better alternative to protect tourists. Insurance coverage should include the possibility of a bankrupt tour operator, he said, referring to an incident of the sudden bankruptcy of the Russian Lanta Viet travel firm that left 300 Russian tourists stranded in Viet Nam in February.
Director of the Institute for Tourism Development Research Ha Van Sieu said the chapter about tourism should move up to the front to demonstrate its importance. As well, the chapter should include specific details about the rights and responsibilities.
He said the tourists should have rights to access information, negotiate in tourism contracts, be insured and compensated, refuse to use tourism service and to freely get to know the local community, among others.
At the same time, tourists should also be required to abide by the destination's laws and regulations, comply with the agenda, respect the local culture, and fulfil their payments.
None of these statements are written in the current law yet.
Nguyen Quang Lan, chairman of the Ha Noi Tourism Association, said the law should have a chapter that stressed the economic importance of the industry so stakeholders, scattered from one sector to another, would be more engaging and collaborative in developing tourism in general and making the law more effective in particular.
"One of the top challenges of making this specific law is to convince all the stakeholders involved that this or that is important. Thus it will be very hard to push for change if some actors just do not want to co-operate," he conceded.
Apart from tourism consumer protection, the workshop, organised in collaboration with the EU-funded "Environmentally and Socially Responsible Tourism Capacity Development Programme", covered other fundamental issues of the sector, including travel business, tourism accommodation business and tour guiding.
Over the last decade, the tourism sector has contributed 5 per cent of the total GDP and generated more than 1.3 million jobs. — VNS