A surge in the number of Chinese tourists should be welcome news for Vietnam as it seeks to make tourism a spearhead economic sector, but many of them are turning out to be unwanted guests.
In the first four months of this year, over 1.7 million Chinese tourists came to Vietnam, accounting for 32 percent of the total number of foreign visitors. The figure marked an increase of about 40 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam.
However, many of the visitors are carrying a nuisance value that is not only giving China a bad image, but also hurting Vietnamese tourism with their “uncivilized” behavior, according people in the host country.
The littering and noisy chattering by the Chinese visitors could end up deterring other foreign visitors from returning to Vietnam, some people say.
Duong Nguyen Ngoc Hoang, a Nha Trang resident, said he has seen Chinese tourists talking loudly in public with no regard for others’ privacy. At lunch, these guests scramble to get good seats at the table, shouting loudly and flinging food everywhere all the while.
“Seeing that scene, a tourist couple from Australia standing next to me just shrugged and sighed in disappointment,” Hoang said.
Hoang Nhan Chinh, an official from Vietnam’s National Administration of Tourism, said this situation wasn’t unique to Vietnam, according to local media.
Chinese tourists are infamous for their noisy chattering and disregard for order in public places, he said.
“The noisy chattering in tourist destinations is not appreciated by other guests. Some European guests don’t even stay in hotels which admit Chinese tourists,” he said.
Even worse, some Chinese tourists are also spreading misinformation about Vietnamese sovereignty.
In February, a Chinese tourist in Vietnam was caught on camera saying: “Vietnam belonged to China in the past, but fighting has divided China, and thanks to that, Vietnam was born a nation.”
Soon after saying this, she assumed the role of a tour guide herself in the coastal city Da Nang.
The city’s tourism department has since asked the Ministry of Public Security to ban the aforementioned Chinese tourist from returning to Vietnam.
Earlier this month, police at the Cam Ranh International Airport in the central province of Khanh Hoa discovered 14 Chinese tourists passing through immigration wearing T-shirts with a Chinese map that violated Vietnam’s sovereignty.
The police ordered the tour company, based in the nearby resort town Nha Trang, to confiscate the T-shirts.
This news sparked outrage on social media, with many Vietnamese and foreigners urging local authorities to deport the Chinese visitors.
“The fact that Chinese tourists can come here and spread misinformation about Vietnam’s sovereignty is dangerous, and could negatively affect diplomatic ties,” said Chinh.
The surge in Chinese tourists is not accompanied by an expected windfall in tourism revenue. Chinese tourists typically spend $600 per guest, while North Americans and Europeans spend about $1,500 and $1,300, said Chinh.
Then there are the “zero dollar” tours tailor-made for Chinese visitors.
In the peculiar phenomenon known as ‘Zero dollar’ tours, travel agencies pay for tourists’ accommodation and meals on the condition they follow the agencies’ schedule and shop only at the stores they are taken to.
These stores are the foundation of ‘zero dollar’ tours,” said a travel official in Quang Ninh.
Tourists who take these tours travel on Chinese-owned airlines, eat at Chinese-owned restaurants, and stay at Chinese-owned hotels.
“Vietnam’s local businesses gain nothing from these ‘zero dollar’ tours,” Chinh said.
On paper, most of the stores are owned by Vietnamese nationals, but they are actually operated by Chinese investors, and their operations are very hard for authorities to control, he explained.
The travel agencies and stores strike a deal to split the revenue from these tours.
Jewelry, blankets, mattresses and other products are sold at these “Chinese customers only” stores for prices a few times higher than the market rate, the official said.
Fifteen of these stores were closed in March 2017 after the PM asked Quang Ninh Province to verify press reports of low service quality. The media has called them “secret stores” since they are always packed with Chinese tourists and Vietnamese nationals cannot get in.
While “all guests are valuable guests,” those that negatively impact the country and its image by their actions are not welcome, Chinh stressed.
But, he added: “This doesn’t mean that all Chinese tourists are behaving badly though. Many are very courteous, and actively contribute to our economy when they are here.”