Judging from recent debates on the Tripadvisor Vietnam forum, tipping is a hot topic amongst travellers to Vietnam. Should I tip? If so, who should I tip? And how much?

 

In some parts of the world, particularly the US, tips are expected and taken for granted, and in some establishments a tip is even included in the bill, meaning the customer is obliged to tip even when they might feel that it is not deserved.

 

In Vietnam, this isn’t the case, and the culture of tipping is still in its infancy. The Vietnamese rarely tip in restaurants or bars, though women usually tip in hairdressers or spas.

 

So what to do? In my opinion, you should tip to reward good service, polite/friendly/professional service, or service that exceeds your expectations. Such service, outside international hotels at least, is sadly all too rare in Vietnam so I always reward it when I experience it.

 

Here are my guidelines for tipping:

 

Restaurants

You will find that the standard of service in Vietnamese restaurants is way below what you would get in other tourism destinations, such as Thailand. If you do get good service, then 5% of the bill is a reasonable amount, which will usually equate to between 15,000-30,000VND. Less is too little, more is too much!

 

Bars

Bar staff are generally paid very little and make up their wages with tips, so if you get good service, tip by rounding up your bill – again, 15,000-30,000VND is reasonable.

 

Hotel Porters

10,000-15,000VND is the usual amount for a helpful porter who has escorted you to your room and/or delivered your baggage. I personally find that tipping porters/concierges ensures you get excellent attention and service throughout your stay!

Taxis

Polite, friendly, honest taxi drivers are a rare species in Vietnam, so if you get one, reward him with a tip – rounding up your bill is the best way, or if he has really gone above & beyond the call of duty, hand him 10,000VND to let him know his efforts are appreciated.

 

Please note that some taxi drivers may assume you want them to keep the change if it’s a small amount and not bother to give change. If the driver has given you good service, then by all means let him keep it. But if he’s been surly, uncommunicative or generally indifferent, insist on getting your change in full. If he claims he has no change, take your money back or stay put in the cab. You will find the change will miraculously appear!

 

Spa/Massage

Many massage parlours of dubious repute pay their staff so little that they live off tips, and will consequently openly ask for tips. I have even heard cases of masseuses refusing to allow customers to leave until they have paid a tip! Obviously such practices should be discouraged – generally, if a spa or massage parlour is touting for business by handing out leaflets on the street, it is best avoided. Most reputable spas (including our own) discourage their staff from asking for tips, but if you have had good service, then 50,000-100,000VND is the usual amount and will be gratefully received.

 

Tour Guides/Drivers

If you’re on a tour with a guide & driver, and you feel they’ve really done a good job of making your trip memorable, then a tip of $10 per day (total) is reasonable. Tips probably account for 60% of their earnings and they have a hard job, being away from home for long periods of time. However, if the service is indifferent or unremarkable, or if they openly ask for tips, give them nothing.

 

 

In all the above cases, you should only reward good service. Tipping for poor or indifferent service provides staff with little motivation to improve the way they treat customers. If the message that great service = big tips starts to get across, the country’s currently poor standards of service will hopefully improve, and more tourists will come back for repeat visits. However, if the message is foreigners are going to tip me whatever I do, things will not improve and Vietnam will continue to have a reputation for offering poor service, whilst restaurateurs will cut wages and expect staff to live off tips. So, please tip with care and only when it’s deserved!

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Guests often ask me why they never see any destination marketing for Vietnam. You know the kind of thing – the successful Amazing Thailand or Malaysia – Truly Asia campaigns, which, by combining memorable slogans with consistent messages and inviting images, have firmly established those countries’ ‘brands’ in the minds of travellers.

 

Currently, no such campaigns exist, or have ever existed, for Vietnam, the country relying on its tumultuous recent history and exotic allure to attract visitors. But with only around 5% of visitors coming back for repeat visits, clearly more needs to be done if Vietnam is to compete with its more aggressive (in marketing terms) neighbours.

 

The most recent slogan – The Hidden Charm – didn’t really cut it, implying as it did that Vietnam’s attractions aren’t obvious and have to be tracked down! But things seem to be improving. VNAT (Vietnam National Administration of Tourism) is currently working with Spanish tourism consultants to establish a marketing plan and a consistent brand message for the country, and if the work-in-progress report I saw recently is anything to go by, Vietnam should soon be making the kind of marketing effort and infrastructure investment needed to maintain and increase its tourism business.

 

The challenge for Vietnam’s marketing team is to establish a consistent brand message which encapsulates all the various attributes of such a large, diverse country – friendly people, nature, beaches, bustling cities, history, shopping, culture, food and so on. So how do you settle on a message that will resonate with travellers? Easy – listen to travellers themselves. Find out what visitors like about Vietnam, and just as importantly, find out what they DON’T like – tourism authorities here are very keen on organising Tourism Festivals and building ‘Tourist Villages’, little realising that most travellers want to see the real country and will go out of their way to avoid such artifice.

 

We applied the same process when putting together our current brand message. We looked at guest feedback (in-room questionnaires, Tripadvisor etc), had a couple of guest focus group sessions, and informally chatted to in-house guests and restaurant customers, and learned that the two main reasons people come back to the Duxton are its central location, and its friendly service. This enabled us to come up with the Heart of Saigon concept, which encompasses central location and caring service. A bit more consultation with visitors and resident expats, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to do the same for Vietnam!

 

 

Further to my previous piece casting doubt on the doom & gloom coming out of the tourist industry in Vietnam and beyond, this article from Jones Lang LaSalle gives further reasons for optimism!