Thousands of travel firms operate illegally in Vietnamese city

Thousands of travel firms operate illegally in Vietnamese cityTourism authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have said they will crack down on illegal travel companies, which are estimated to be in the thousands.

According to the city Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, there are 818 authorized travel companies. But figures from the Department of Planning and Investment show licenses have been issued to 18,500 travel businesses.

This means almost 18,000 companies are either not in operation or operating without approval from the tourism department.

But the department said it has difficulty in detecting illegal travel businesses since it does not have enough inspectors.

Deputy Chief Inspector Nguyen Van Kham called on legal businesses to help by providing information about illegal ones.

He added that inspectors would work with the police and other agencies at Tan Son Nhat Airport to tighten control over travel businesses, especially those who organize outbound tours.

In related news, the government last week issued a decree doubling the mandatory deposit that businesses offering outbound international tours and inbound tours for foreigners have to make to VND500 million (US$23,700).

The money is meant to compensate tourists in case of accidents or when the companies violate contracts.

Rampant violations

Many travel companies have recently been found operating without licenses in HCMC, which attracted 420,000 foreign visitors in the first 10 months.

In July Travel Life Company grabbed headlines after 701 Vietnamese tourists accused it of abandoning them in Bangkok for days during a tour it organized there.

The company had failed to pay its Thai partner for services though the visitors had paid VND7.7-8.1 million ($356-385) each.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the city department found Travel Life guilty of eight violations, including organizing outbound tours without a license.

City authorities announced a fine of VND92 million (US$4,300), but the company was found closed by then and its director, Nguyen Thi Kim Khanh, had disappeared.

A travel company in District 10 was also found closed recently after collecting hundreds of millions of dong from people for tours to Thailand and Phu Quoc Island.

Tourism inspectors said the company had only been licensed to operate inbound tours.

Last month Sao Bac Construction and International Travel in District 3 was fined VND12.5 million ($592) and had its license to operate international tours revoked for three months.

It was found mainly booking hotels for its Korean partners, who themselves organized the other things like transportation and guides.

(Thanh NienNews)