More than 700 Vietnamese people were left stranded in the middle of a MICE (Meeting-Incentive-Conventions-Events) tour in Bangkok. They were among 3,000 agents of the multi-level marketing company Herbalife who had gone to participate in the company’s regional seminar in Bangkok.
The travel agency in VietNam, Travel Life Company, did not pay the total amount it owed to its Thai partner, and as a result, the visitors had to pay their own travel costs. The problem was finally settled when the travel company received an administrative fine of VND80 million (nearly US$4,000) and the participants received a refund. The issue came about when the Vietnamese meeting participants bought a cheap tour from a travel agency without a licence for overseas travel.
The tour company in question had promised that the participants would stay in a three-star hotel, but in fact, they were placed in a cheap hostel. The agency had also cut several promised tours from the tour programme. One participant was quoted as saying, “It was a terrible visit for me. Now, I very much fear cheap tours”.
According to the representative office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Ho Chi Minh City, Herbalife Vietnam had organized a seminar tour in Thailand for 3,000 Vietnamese participants and had used a number of different travel firms in Vietnam, including the company Travel Life who booked 700 people. After the two-day seminar, those booked by Travel Life were abandoned at the conference center because the Thai partner was not fully paid and refused to continue serving them.The Thai partner said they only received 30% of deposit from Travel Life and so did not have money to take care of Vietnamese tourists who then had to pay everything themselves although they completely paid for the tour.
According to the HCM City Department of Tourism, Travel Life is not licensed to provide international tours. A local vietnamese tour guide, said that the scandal was a good lesson for travel agencies as well as consumers and warned, “Travel agencies, please do not sign a contract without thinking about the costs. This will make you lose your customers, your brand name and tourism trademark”.
VietNam has nearly 1,000 outbound registered companies according to the National Administration of Tourism. It has also become clear that there are many unlicensed travel agencies in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. At a recent online conference on improving the Vietnamese tourism environment, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan stressed that customer satisfaction should be the industry’s top priority as it develops its growing tourism industry.