Tour companies have raised concerns about poor-quality services and high prices of a centre set up to protect the environment and support tourists climbing Fansipan Mountain in northern Lao Cai Province.
Some tour operators have stopped offering the tour to the mountain, which is the highest peak in Indochina.
In 2007, the provincial authority established the Hoang Lien Centre for Ecological Tourism and Environmental Education to protect the national park's environment and manage tourism activities, including the Fansipan climbing tour.
Last January, the centre - which itself operates as a tour company - issued regulations on ecological protection, forcing tour companies to pay for the centre's services, including fees for sanitation, inspection, fuel and sleeping places.
Director of Mountain Trails Travel Dao Manh Hung told Viet Nam News his company had stopped offering the Fansipan tour due to the unreasonably high service fees.
"The price of the tour is at least VND3 million (US$144), double last year's price, which would be half of our price for a package tour - we just can't keep the tour," he said.
In spite of the high fees, the centre's services and facilities have been labelled as poor-quality by tour agencies.
"They (the centre) collect fees for sanitation and sleeping places, but none of them have been built properly and they ban us from bringing fuel to the mountain, and make our customers wait from 4pm to 10pm to get their fuel to cook," Hung said.
He added that services had been downgraded since the centre's intervention, which had failed to provide services on par with costs.
Hung Vy Tourism and Trade tour operator Nguyen Anh Tuan said the company had only run four tours this year, a fraction of previous years.
"We don't want to offer the tour until we can insure good quality services - when tourists are thousands of metres above sea level, everything must be adequate for their needs," Tuan said.
Tuan's company has joined a dozen of tour businesses in reporting the situation to local authorities.
Provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism deputy director Hoang Thi Vuong said companies had to increase package prices due to high fees, adding that most tours for international tourists had been booked months in advance, forcing companies to pay for losses, while the number of domestic tourists were also went down.
Vuong said many tour operators, especially those in Sa Pa, which receive large volumes of tourists, were quite indifferent to the mountain tour.
British tourist Kevin Dales said the tour would be great if the facilities were improved.
"The accommodation was poor-quality with no hot water and the toilet didn't have enough water. I didn't expect much but something should be done to improve the situation as it became quite freezing at nights," he said.
In response to tour operators' feedback, Hoang Lien Centre for Ecological Tourism and Environmental Education director Ninh Anh Vu said the fees were essential to protect the ecological system of the mountain while speaking to Van Hoa (Culture) newspaper.
Vu said the centre was working to find the best places to install sanitation systems and sleeping areas for tourists, adding that it would hold meetings with tour enterprises to improve services.
The centre is currently reducing the inspection fee from VND150,000 ($7.5) to VND50,000 ($2.5) and allowing enterprises to cook meals for tourists on some routes.
Lao Cai Province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism director Tran Huu Son said the department would send a team to inspect the alleged over-charging of services.
An initial inspection by the department had shown that no dustbins or signposts had been installed along the main mountain trail.
Fansipan Mountain is located 9km south-west of Sa Pa in the Hoang Lien Mountain Range in Lao Cai Province. The 3,143 - metre high mountain has been called the roof of Indochina and climbing tours have attracted many tourists since becoming available several years ago. — VNS