After being recognized as a new wonder of the world, Halong Bay has pertained to numerous problems including an entrance ticket price hike, the recent fatal boat accident and boat service fee hikes causing outcry among local travel agencies.

In a document sent to the local authorities, Nguyen Huu Tho, chairman of the association, said transport fees at Halong Bay are too high and are not appropriate with the quality of the services. The number of visitors to the bay might fall if the province doesn’t seek ways to push down the fees and to improve the services’ quality soon, Tho said.

The provincial Department of Finance on August 30 announced the new prices of transport and accommodation services applicable to last month and this year’s last quarter, with a rise of nearly 100% from the previous levels recorded.

This is not the first time that the province has raised service fees at Halong Bay. Last December, the HCMC Tourism Association and the VTA expressed the same reaction to Quang Ninh’s movement to revise up entrance ticket prices as the bay was just honored as one of the seven temporary new wonders of the world by the New Open World organization.

All decisions on price hikes of the locality are all sudden, thus driving local tour operators into difficulties as they have already sold tours to customers at old prices. Nguyen Van Tran, general director of Apex Tourist Co., wondered if Quang Ninh would adjust down the prices or not, adding his firm had already sold out this year’s tickets.

The price increases would not have caused such strong opposition from local tourism companies if the services in Halong merited it.

Many travel agencies noticed that boat service fees in Halong Bay are higher than in other tourist attractions. With the new price increase, boat service fees in Halong now are nearly twice higher than the fees of the same service in Hue or in the Mekong Delta.

“The service fees of boats of 20 seats to 30 seats are from VND300,000 to VND400,000 an hour in Halong, nearly doubling the fees in other sites in the country while the quality has still remained unchanged,” said director Ung Phuong Dung of Indochina Services Vietnam. She insisted that there are no reasons for Halong to raise the fees.

A slew of tourism companies suggested Quang Ninh draw up a long-term strategy for developing services and ensuring safety for tourists for sustainable development instead of constantly pushing up service prices.

International tourism partners now worry about the safety of foreign visitors to Halong after a series of boat accidents at the bay, with the recent tragedy killing five Taiwanese travelers on October 3.

By Dao Loan - The Saigon Times Daily - October 17, 2012