When the media portrays Vietnam as lawless and deadly, it’s easier to believe that danger lurks in all corners of the country. Even in destinations that have little to do with the war, the industry has to work hard to show that Vietnam is not a dangerous place where anything can happen. In 2016, three British tourists died tragically in Da Lat in the Central Highlands while canyoning, an adventure activity that involves abseiling down waterfalls into rock pools. The tragedy was given comprehensive coverage in the British press, which referenced an unlicensed tour guide, shoddy safety equipment and disobedient backpackers. With only the tour guide’s account to go on, we can never know the complete story, but we do know that the tragedy still impacts Da Lat’s responsible adventure tour operators. This tenacious reputation for danger has been difficult to shift, and operators need to go above and beyond to demonstrate the professionalism of their tours.
“The safety of our participants is our number one priority,” says Le Trong Thanh Liem, co-founder of Highland Sport Travel and presenter of Vietnam now’s My Da Lat, after describing how hard his company has had to work to show its commitment to safety after the 2016 tragedy. “We have an in-depth risk assessment in place that is continuously reviewed, monitored and updated.” Highland Sport Travel includes this risk assessment in the contract with the customer so that they can see the risks and what the company has done to minimise them. If the customer doesn’t read and sign the contract, they can’t join the tour.
In Phong Nha in central Vietnam, Oxalis Adventure has a permanent team of international caving and safety experts connected to the British Caving Association (BCA). “Everything about our tours takes safety into consideration,” says Nguyen Chau A, founder and CEO of the adventure tour company. “We pay attention to the terrain, the weather, the ability of the customers and the use of technical and safety equipment,” he explains. Oxalis Adventure imports their equipment from Europe, ensuring that it meets European safety standards, adjust itineraries when faced with unpredictable weather and prepare multiple emergency exits from the caves.