The work was commissioned to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan as part of a long-term programme to improve tourism in Viet Nam.
"A set of standards is necessary to promote better tourism as they will help ensure higher service quality," said Vu The Binh from the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism.
Under the new standards, tourism operators would have to meet certain criterion before they could sell tickets to tourists, said Binh. Localities, particularly tourism hot-spots, will also be required to perform comprehensive urban planning to meet the standards.
Ngo Quang Vinh, director of the Da Nang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, also welcomed the new standards.
"We have been awaiting the implementation of this new policy with great enthusiasm. It will help us to improve tourism services to maintain Viet Nam’s position as a popular tourist destination."
Pham Tat Thanh, from the Lao Cai Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the province had yet to receive information about the incoming set of standards but appreciated the move. Thanh added that the editorial team responsible for drafting the standards should ensure the standards would be comprehensive enough to be applied in every province.
Quality and quantity
Speaking about the importance of standards that address qualitative aspects of tourism, Thanh said: "Our recommendation, which is based on experience, is that standards should be linked to the level of satisfaction reported by tourists. For so long the number of visitors was thought to be the best measure of progress in the tourism industry but this is not sustainable. The extent to which tourists are satisfied –quality– is just as important as the quantity of tourists."
Lao Cai Province is home to the immensely popular H’Mong town of Sa Pa which has enjoyed wide popularity from both domestic and international tourists in recent years.
Speaking about her experience as a tourist in Viet Nam, American Amelia Henry remarked: "Our trip would have been much more enjoyable if we hadn’t been chased down by overly-aggressive street vendors. Even though I was happy to buy souvenirs, being pressured to do so made me feel uncomfortable."
Thanh said that this issue had given local authorities a headache although in Sa Pa the problem had been solved by creating a specific area where local people could set up stores to sell their goods. In remote hamlets around the town, Thanh said the problem persisted as it was difficult to police.
Simplify entry and exit
The Deputy Prime Minister has requested relevant agencies and localities to establish a common set of regulations on entry and exit procedures by land, sea and air for foreign tourists arriving at border gates to simplify administrative procedures.
Yet, Binh noted: "It would take a remarkable amount of time and work before visas-on-arrival could be issued at border gates throughout the country.
This is because the gates would first need to be equipped with powerful information systems and co-operate closer with relevant agencies."
Another qualitative problem identified in the tourism industry is the lack of market research into tourist preferences. As British expat Elizabeth Liz put it: "Viet Nam should have done this market research sooner. Many tour agencies thought they knew what we [foreigners] want but in fact they don’t. And they never ask us."
Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Tran Chien Thang said the tourism sector was starting to develop specific products for the international market, including the eco-, adventure and regional tourism to address this shortfall.
Others like French-Vietnamese Raymond Nguyen cited environmental degradation as one of the major problems with tourism in Viet Nam. After returning from a trekking tour in Sa Pa, he said: "Viet Nam is an ideal place for adventure tourism due to its spectacular sights and challenging terrain. But, the nature of the landscape, the reason why we come to Viet Nam in the first place, should be preserved, not destroyed."
According to the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism , while the number of foreign tourists entering the country dropped by 10 per cent last year to about 4 million, total revenue over the same period increased by 10 per cent to VND70 trillion (US$3.8 billion).