According to the HCM City Culture, Sports and Tourism Department (DCST), at the end of September 2008, 24 foreign travel agencies had offices in the city, representing firms in South Korea and the US, Japan and France, Australia and Taiwan, Hong Kong and New Zealand.
However, by November 2009 , DCST was still in contact with only sixteen or seventeen such offices. “Some representative offices have quit operating, while others have changed addresses so many times that we lost touch with them,” said an official of the department. “Possibly they’ve had to shut down because of the big economic difficulties,” he added hopefully.
Thoi bao Kinh te Saigon’s reporters tried to contact the offices named in the updated list provided by DCST. Only half of the offices proved to be contactable. Four of the six representative offices that have been licensed since August 2009 have changed their addresses and telephone numbers.
The main activity of the rep offices is to cooperate with Vietnamese partners to bring foreign tourists to Vietnam and send Vietnamese tourists abroad. However, the number of international tourists has decreased dramatically due to the global economic crisis.
That obviously means less work for representative offices. Tourist arrivals from South Korea in the first six months of 2009 were only 204,000, down 17 percent compared to the first half of 2008. Arrivals from Japan dropped twelve percent, from France three percent, and from Australia four percent.
These are significant reverses for a business sector geared to annual double-digit increases. Overall, each month this year the numbers have been 15 to 30 percent below same month last year.
Several reasons seem tolie behind the disappearance of many representative offices. Perhaps the offices failed to file an annual report, or to notify DCST when they moved offices or changed the person in charge – though they are required to do so.
Another explanation could trace to the absence of implementing guidance for the Tourism Law after June 1. Enterprises that wanted to register representative offices or re-register offices were not able to do so. However, though technically ‘illegal,’ they continued to operate, ‘dodging the laws’ by changing addresses and telephone numbers – and (also because implementing authority was absent), no Vietnamese agencies had the power to punish infractions.
These problems seem to have been settled now that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has promulgated implementing guidance. However, other problems have arisen. Perhaps the representative offices hesitate to follow the procedures for re-registration and pay the fee of one million dong.
A DCST official said that under the new guidance, the Department has granted three new licenses (to Grand Circle, a US firm specializing in package tours for travelers aged over 50, Westeast Travel (UK) and Griffin Travel (Singapore), specializing in air tickets, and has re-licensed only three offices (Hanoosi (ROK), Footsteps in Asia (Thailand) and Stella Travel (Australia).
“It is expected that about ten offices remain to be re-licensed and seven or eight will get new licenses by the end of the year,” the official said