A Widening Crack in the Wall of Viet Nam’s Tourism Industry?

How to kill tourism in one easy step

I stumbled upon the following 29 July 2019 post with photos on the Danang & Hoi An Foreign Expats Facebook group, of which I’m a lurking member:  I wouldn’t be swimming anywhere near Apocalypse Now Beach Club in the next few days. Huge outpouring of sewage into the ocean. – AM

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Below are some of the more pointed (and slightly edited) comments by both expats and Vietnamese:   

PTA:  I’m a local here and stopped swimming 2-3 years ago. 😦  It is a bad thing when you live on the beach, you can’t swim.

BP:  Local Govt needs to fix all sewage flowing into ocean and collecting all rubbish on the beach and floating offshore everyday and make the beach and water as nice as they advertise which in reality is exactly the opposite.

RMM:  That drainage channel was fully extended to the sea by steam shovel this morning. They must have known that the rain was coming.

AM: You should have seen the paragliding guys running for their life. The sewage came so fast and just engulfed the whole area.

VK:  Show this to the tourist, they wont pay a penny on that hotel again.

TR:  How to kill tourism in one easy step. This has been going on for years…  Who the hell would want to spend their hard earned money on a place like this?

WC:  And you wonder why tourists don’t come back to VN?!?

LD:  My God, terrible smell on the beach today.

This 2017 article entitled Da Nang’s beautiful beaches under threat as sewage streams into the ocean sums it up.  It’s 2019 and nothing has changed.  Warning:  Don’t look at the photos on a full stomach.  

This issue has reared its ugly head in other locations in Viet Nam, including Nha Trang.  Last fall, sewage was being discharged directly into Nha Trang Bay, the result of an overloaded local pumping station.  

Over the past 10-15 years, billions of dollars have been invested in resorts up and down Viet Nam’s long and scenic coastline.  Tourism is a significant source of revenue for the country and tourists continue to flock to Viet Nam in record numbers.  2018 revenue was estimated at $26.5 billion, 11% of the country’s nominal GDP.  Last year, 15.6 million tourists visited Viet Nam, up from 2.1 million in 2000.  That’s a 638% increase in 18 years.  In addition, there were 80 million domestic tourists, an increase of 6.8 million over 2017, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.  

Here’s the bottom line, quite literally:  If the county, at the local, provincial, and national level, does not solve the pollution problem, word will (continue to) spread that the beaches are dirty and the water is polluted, which means tourists will begin to look elsewhere for a quality vacation.  Hotel occupancy rates will plummet and restaurants and other ancillary business will see fewer customers. 

Think of reputation as a container ship reversing direction on the high seas.  It will take an exceedingly long time to persuade tourists from all over the world that the beaches and the water are once again clean, not to mention actually making that idyllic scenario a reality.  

To further complicate matters, many foreigners who visit Viet Nam don’t return.  I’ve seen estimates that range from 70% to 90%.  Environmental pollution will give newcomers yet another reason to follow suit.  The short-sighted obsession with short-term profit has to stop.  Unless something is done very soon, the tourism party is going to be over for Viet Nam.  Change should come for the sake of the environment and all of us who share it.  If it comes because of the prospect of plummeting revenue, I’ll take it.  Same end result, a cleaner environment.  

Full disclosure:  I do not swim in the sea in Danang, Nha Trang, and other well-known resort cities.  Now you know why.  I know too much.  While ignorance is not bliss, the truth can sometimes be painful and sad.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“Global garment firms no longer bullish on Vietnam as costs rise”

So goes the title of a recent article about international textile companies operating in Viet Nam.  The first thought that always pops into my head whenever I read about rising labor costs is how much by local standards and how much is enough in terms of net profit?  Why not pay your employees a living wage and stop exploiting them in the name of a fatter bottom line? 

That, of course, is one of the fundamental problems with global capitalism.  Low labor costs used to be a major selling point for Viet Nam.  There’s nothing wrong with low labor costs by international standards if the local wage is more than enough to live on. 

As the article notes, Vietnam raised its minimum wage by an average of 5.3% last January to VND 4.18 million ($181).  I can assure you that $181 a month for a back-breaking job is not very much, not in 2019.  

Here’s an example that illustrates just how large the profit margin is in the clothing industry.  You can go to a market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that sells Dockers pants, among many other products, and get a pair for $12, bargained down from $16.  The seller probably still makes 100% profit for slacks that sell for $50 or $60 in the US.  I mentioned that to a saleswoman in the men’s section of a Macy’s in the US and she just gave me a blank stare.  Minus source and destination country overhead and shipping costs, that’s still a huge profit. 

The silver lining in this rather dark and ominous cloud is that these greedy companies will eventually run out of countries and workers to exploit.  Maybe not in my lifetime but it will happen.  People over profit!  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Mark Ashwill @ NAFSA 2019

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Dear Friends & Colleagues,

I’m excited to inform you that I’ll be participating in four (4) events at the NAFSA 2019 annual conference in late May in Washington, D.C., listed below in descending chronological order.  Note:  Online registration is required for the two seminars.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA


4th Annual Viet Nam Recruitment Seminar at NAFSA 2019 (unofficial, pre-conference event on Monday, May 27th from 1-3 p.m. in Washington, D.C.)

The Viet Nam Recruitment Seminar consists of a comprehensive overview of current market conditions, recruitment tools and techniques, and different types of recruitment strategies, plus plenty of time for Q&A.  These are challenging times for international student recruitment, including in Viet Nam, with a rapidly changing market and more competition than ever. While more Vietnamese students are opting to study overseas, a perfect storm has been brewing for some host countries, combined with a growing list of positives and pull factors for others.

The reason I began offering this free seminar starting in 2016 in Denver was that I noticed that Viet Nam, a strategically important country, was underrepresented, if represented at all, at NAFSA annual conferences.  This year is no exception.  Enter “Vietnam” in a keyword search in the conference schedule and let me know what you find.  

Please follow this link for more information and online registration.  A heartfelt thanks to Study in the USA for its sponsorship.  


Ethical Commissions-Based Recruitment: The Need for a New Way (unofficial, pre-conference event on Monday, May 27 from 3:30-5 p.m. in Washington, D.C.)

Join me, Eddie West, assistant dean, UC Berkeley Extension, and executive director, international programs, and former director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and Lindsay Addington, director of global engagement at NACAC, for a brief presentation and collective exploration of ways to improve upon the current flawed model of agency-based international student recruitment. 

The raison d’être for this seminar is a statement Eddie and I made in an October 2018 University World News article entitled An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment

The fatal flaw in commissioned recruitment is that most agents prioritise their partner schools’ interests over those of the students and parents they advise. This means that most guide or, in many cases, drive students to their partner schools because of the gold (commission) at the end of the rainbow (enrolment process). 

The purpose is not to debate the merits of commissions-based recruitment but to bring together colleagues who are interested in exploring ways in which it can be made more ethical to the benefit of international students and their parents, in addition to admitting institutions and education agents. 

Follow this link for more information and online registration.  A heartfelt thanks to Study in the USA for its sponsorship.  


Commissions-Based International Student Recruitment Agents: Is There a Better Way?  (Wednesday, May 29 from 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.)

AC19_Email_Sigs_PresenterJoin me, Eddie West, session chair and executive director, international programs, University of California-Berkeley Extension, and Mayumi Kowta, director, international programs, California State University Channel Islands, for a lively discussion about how the “fatal flaw” in commissions-based recruitment can be addressed.  
 
Follow this link to see the official conference description of our session, including the abstract and the learning objectives.  This is a condensed version of the Monday seminar.  


Vietnamese Student Recruitment in Challenging Times  (Wednesday, May 29 from 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Model Practices in International Enrollment Management Poster Fair)

Here’s the password-protected session page with resources.  It will be made available to those who stop by.

Abstract

Gain knowledge and insights from a foreign international educator and education entrepreneur who has lived and worked in Viet Nam since 2005. This poster session will focus on how to create and implement a proactive recruitment strategy that includes commission-based recruitment, armchair tools and techniques, and in country activities.

Poster Content: Takeaways

1) an update on the status of young Vietnamese studying overseas, including information changes in country preference;
2) an inventory and description of various non-commission-based recruitment tools and techniques; and
3) some information and caveats about commissions-based recruitment.

Learning Objectives

1) Learn about recent facts, figures, and trends related to Vietnamese students studying overseas at both the secondary and postsecondary levels;
2) learn about a wide variety of recruitment tools and techniques, most unrelated to the use of education agents;
3) be well-positioned to either improve fine-tune an existing recruitment strategy or create a new one.  

“The shift of Vietnamese students to Canada marches on”

20190320083629583_5Here is my latest essay for University World News.  If you like the teaser below, follow this link to read the article in its entirety.  This is a follow-up to an April 2018 article I wrote entitled Vietnamese students look at the US and head north (editor’s title).  

I placed a gentleman’s bet with myself that the number of young Vietnamese studying in Canada would top 20,000 last year. Based on the latest statistics for 2018 released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, it looks like I won, much to the dismay of Canada’s main friendly competitor for Vietnamese students, the United States of America. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

US Student Visa Update from Viet Nam: So Far, So Good in FY19

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I know it’s only four months into the 2019 US government fiscal year (FY19) but I look for trends wherever I can find them, even if they’re just beginning to take shape.  Based on US State Department statistics, the number of student visas issued from October 2018 to January 2019 by US Mission-Viet Nam, which includes the Embassy in Hanoi and the Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), pretty much mirror those of the same period last year.  (Overall, 5.9% fewer F-1s were issued in 2018 than in FY17, based on a slightly revised final tally.)  This is a tentatively positive sign, at least for the first quarter of this fiscal year and in view of substantial decreases from other major sending countries and a downward trend in F-1 issuances.  Each month is linked to a PDF download of the relevant statistics for Viet Nam and other countries.  

October 2018: 206 vs. 275 in 10-17

November 2018: 390 vs. 364 in 11-17

December 20181,077 vs. 1,299 in 12/17

January 2019 1400 vs. 1165 in 1/18

For what it’s worth, this amounts to a statistically insignificant decrease of 1% rounded up.  While the December issuances were down, they rebounded in January to the tune of 20% over 2018.  At this point, we’ll have to wait until “high season”, i.e., from May-August, to see what’s really happening and what the prospects are for the 2019/20 academic year and beyond.  So far, so good for those US colleagues who recruit in Viet Nam.  Stay tuned!  

Source:  Monthly Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Statistics

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Expanding the Fulbright Legacy in Vietnam (?)

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.  -Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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This was the title of a 2018 article written by Mary Beth Marklein (MBM) for Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning (Volume 50, 2018 – Issue 1, pp. 63-70).  The online version was published on 22 May 2018.  Since I have been following the development of Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) since it was first announced, I read Mary Beth’s piece with great interest and, ultimately, disappointment.  It read like a one-sided, US-centric puff piece that could easily have been written by the FUV public relations office or that of its benefactor, the US State Department. She took the time to speak to quite a few FUV people who, of course, confirmed her rosy view of this institution and whitewashed its recent controversial history.  In other words, she committed a number of sins of omission.    

Here are some comments from colleagues who know Viet Nam, all of which are spot-on, in my opinion.

She has drunk the establishment Kool-Aid.  She thinks no one can truly do any wrong, I guess.  She certainly skated lightly past a few important issues, such as how money was extracted from the Vietnamese for Fulbright U.  

Like most Americans, she conflates two quite different concepts: “unbiased” and “pro-U.S.”  Ironically, at most high-quality universities in the U.S. a large number of faculty see it as their mission to make their students aware of the powerful criticisms of the “neoliberal” world order, “globalization”, and U.S. policy.  Even in the U.S., serious scholars (with some exceptions) are not mindless sycophants of U.S. imperialism.  But FUV is much more U.S.-nationalistic than most universities in the U.S.  So it’s worse than just “meddling” and imposing a U.S.-style institution on Vietnam — it’s imposing a lousy U.S.-style institution on Vietnam.

Below are some of my comments in red after the author’s paragraphs in blue.  

If U.S. readers have heard about FUV, it is probably because of the cloud that hovered over it in 2016 when FUV announced that Bob Kerrey would be chair of the FUV’s board of trustees. A decorated war hero who went on to become the Governor of Nebraska, a U.S. Senator, and a university president, Kerrey’s reputation was forever stained in 2001 by a revelation that he had led an attack in 1969 that killed 13 Vietnamese women and children civilians, and then covered it up. 
 
Where did MBM get the “13” figure – Kerrey’s memoir or the US military?  The figure I have from various reliable sources is 21.  That’s number that was used in the initial New York Times report from 2001 that broke the story.  In fact, his Bronze Medal citation reads as follows:  “The net result of his patrol was 21 Viet Cong killed, two hooches destroyed and two enemy weapons captured.”  
MBM also stated that Kerrey and his unit killed only women and children, forgetting about the 65-year-old grandfather whom Kerrey held down as one of his men, Gerhard Klann, slit the man’s throat, according to Klann.  
 
MBM referred to Bob Kerrey as a “decorated war hero” without mentioning the fact that one of his medals, the Bronze Medal, was awarded for the Thanh Phong war crimes.  
MBM neglected to mention that rather important fact that Kerrey’s mission that fateful night in February 1969 was a Phoenix Program operation.  
 
Kerrey has acknowledged and apologized, multiple times, for his actions; still, the FUV appointment prompted both demands for Kerrey’s resignation and a spirited defense of his appointment. Today, Kerrey’s name remains on the FUV website as a member of the board of trustees. FUV Trustee Ben Wilkinson disputes a report, published in May 2017, that Kerrey had quietly resigned (Ashwill, 2017). Nevertheless, Thuy has taken over the chair’s duties (Taft, 2018). 
 
I’m afraid MBM is missing the forest for the trees.  The point is Kerrey should never have never been offered that position and, having been offered it, should have refused.  Of course, Ben Wilkinson (BW) disputed what I revealed in my May 2017 article.  Always the loyal soldier, I refer to BW as the “quiet American,” a textbook example of someone who is interculturally competent (IC as a skill set) yet a US nationalist (nationalism as a mindset/ideology).  His blood runs red, white, and blue.  He was dead wrong in this case.    
 
The debate over Kerrey is healthy and necessary, but it also distracts from the larger story of the making of Fulbright University Vietnam, a story that includes cautious baby steps and giant leaps of faith.    
 
Regarding the “debate over Kerrey” – whose fault is it that?  Two consecutive PR disasters:  1) Bob Kerrey’s appointment; and 2) Thomas Vallely’s interview with Isabelle Taft for Politico.  He said that Kerrey shouldn’t be singled out for criticism because of the sheer ubiquity of violence against civilians in the Mekong Delta. In other words, so what if Kerrey and his Raiders murdered a couple dozen people in some village.  It was a common occurrence.  Besides, “There’s no one in Thạnh Phong going to FUV,” as he put it in a snide and hurtful as remark.  (Check out my article from August 2018 for more information, if you dare.)  FUV is its own worst enemy.  Ted Osius, former US ambassador to Viet Nam, joined FUV as vice president and then resigns six months into the job.  A little birdie told me that Vallely is on the way out.  Gee, I wonder why?  

Last but not least, another sin of omission is a major source of funding for FUV, namely, the balance of the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF), a scholarship-for-debt program.  That $20 million came indirectly from the Vietnamese government, a partner in this project in more ways than one.  

Finally, what about the victims, both the living and the dead, of Kerey’s war crimes in Thanh Phong?  What about the cruel and insensitive comments by Vallely in that Politico interview?  What about the cynical and persistent use of education not only as a tool but as a weapon of soft power in trying to shape Viet Nam in the USA’s image, which is decidedly anti-Fulbright?  

I could say more but I think this will suffice for a blog post.  

Note:  The author is a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University, where her focus is on US higher education as public diplomacy.  My hope is that she develops a more critical perspective on the issues she writes about and doesn’t continue to uncritically toe the line of US public diplomacy.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American