Vietnam’s government has ordered immediate measures to protect visitors from new groups of gangsters in the Central Highlands town Da Lat who have reportedly forced tourists to pay for unwanted products and services.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc asked that local authoritioes end this practice, which has threatened security in Da Lat and tainted its image as a favorite travel destination.
The direct order from the cabinet head, instead of the tourism ministry, suggests that government officials are taking the problem seriously. It also comes amid multiple efforts to boost the tourism industry, which aims to contribute 10 percent to the country’s economy in 2020.
Like many places across Vietnam, Da Lat has benefitted and been hurt by the recent travel boom.
Known as “Little Paris,” the mostly quiet and charming town is famous for its cool climate as well as the colonial heritage. It has gained popularity both as a romantic place for lovers and an oasis in a country that usually sweats all year round.
In recent months, Da Lat has reported many cases of local gangsters and racketeering gangs who colluded with some businesses to trap travelers, usually at a strawberry farm or some specialty and souvenir shops.
They reportedly threatened to assault tour guides and drivers from several travel companies who refused to take tourists to designated services.
The tension got physical when a tourist was beaten after trying to return a product on May 31.
The woman from southern Vietnam had been taken into a shop and persuaded to buy a bottle of strawberry syrup. She was promised to be taken to a strawberry garden for a very cheap price.
Eventually, no one took her anywhere. So she wanted to return the syrup, prompting the shop owner and one of his alleged mafia guides to knock her unconscious.
She did not file a complaint and police only treated the case as civil.
Local officials said this month they have fined seven businesses a total of VND29.5 million ($1,300) for using these mafia tour guides.