New law looks to make it more difficult to be freelance tour guides in Vietnam


If they want to continue working, they will have to take a salaried job or pay to join a new association.

It is going to be a bumpy road ahead for freelance tour guides in Vietnam when a new law takes effect next year banning them from operating independently.

Under the amended Law on Tourism, tour guides will have to secure contracts with authorized travel companies or tour agencies, or join the Vietnam Association of Tour Guides, which was established in October.

Under current regulations, freelance tour guides in Vietnam only need a license to operate, but the new law means they will lose their self-employed status if they want to work legally.

The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism said the bill is necessary to manage freelance tour guides, who currently make up almost 90 percent of the 20,000 tour guides in Vietnam but operate without oversight from recognized organizations.

Pham Le Thao, a senior official from the administration, said nearly 400 freelance tour guides had been caught trying to use fake degree certificates to obtain a license since 2016.

Aside from the paperwork, the depth of their knowledge and ability to work as guides are not guaranteed, which can affect the image of Vietnam, she told Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper. This is particularly important for a country that has pinned tourism as a pillar for economic growth, Thao said.

Official data show Vietnam received more than 9.4 million foreign visitors in the first nine months of this year, up 28.4 percent against the same period last year.

At a meeting of the legislative National Assembly last month, Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue said Vietnam needs to stop relying on crude oil and focus on tourism to ensure its economic growth, saying  mining output of fossil fuels has been falling for the past two years.

Now “it is better to welcome one million tourists than trying to find one million tons of crude oil because tourism is more eco-friendly and safe for the economy,” Hue said.

Yet tourism insiders say the new rule may do more harm than good because it elbow a significant number of guides out of the game.

The bill does not give freelance tour guides a way out: They will have to either quit their jobs or give up their "freelance" title and find themselves a working contract, or become a member of the Vietnam Association of Tour Guides.

If they do choose to quit their jobs Vietnam will face a bigger problem because the country has set a target of welcoming 13 million foreign arrivals this year and it needs at least 25,000 tour guides to serve those visitors, not to mention domestic tourists.

Nguyen Tuan Quyen, a tourism expert, was quoted by Thanh Nien as saying that the bill is trying to force freelance tour guides to join the association. That is not fair because they should all have the right to decide whether they want to apply to join or not, Quyen said.

Many freelance tour guides are moaning about the fees they will have to pay, which include a VND500,000 ($22) signing up fee and an annual payment of VND1 million to keep the association running, he added.

According to local media reports, the association, which is headquartered in Hanoi and has offices in Da Nang and Saigon, has accepted 5,000 members so far.