Maybe it is time to get a bit personal again. Some things
have happened in the last year that have slowly been simmering in the back of
my mind and have now come to the forefront. Let me talk about business and how
I (and am sure other expats) fit within it.
Many of you know that I am running a hotel in Nha Trang. The
hotel business is quite a bit more complicated than other businesses because of
the need for government to know where the people are, and the use of rooms for
thing other than sleeping. There are endless stories in themselves about what
goes on in hotels in Vietnam, but I have chosen not to write too much about that………. Some things are better
kept secret….. Anyway…
After almost 2 years, the Tide Hotel has become one of the
most popular budget hotels in Nha Trang. I am very proud of that. It is not
only because of our hard work and resolve, but also from the wonderful; guests
we have that want to experience a stay in real Vietnam away from all of the
hawkers and such. Outwardly, everything looks fine and it looks like the hotel
is successful and profitable…. But here is where the dream becomes a bit
muddy………………….I will not write in idioms in this instance as I do not care
that some person in government that is monitoring my blogs sees, and acts on
what I say.
After the painful 6 month process of turning this hotel from
a “Boom Boom” house into a nice budget hotel, we experienced no problems except
the customers we were trying to be rid of. Sure there were hiccups and you can
read about those in posts from Feb-Jun 2010. Back then I was adamant that no
bribes would be paid and we would not help fuel corruption. That thought is
still true today, but the consequences of that decision have been hurtful. We
now have some pretty high level police friends, but sometimes, they cannot
protect us………. So here is what has transpired.
It all started with the local Tax authorities showing up
with 6 personnel to inspect our hotel and computerized reservation system.
After some self important declaration about how we could improve (Vietnam style
and not very helpful) we were upgraded from a standard to a 1 star hotel. This
allowed us to have things like cold drinks in the lobby.
Other city departments took notice of this newly renovated
hotel that was attracting tourists (and money) into the area. One night a team
of 6 police officers angrily buzzed up on motorcycles and promptly seized our
computer. They were here to check our guests against the information submitted
to the police station. We had not yet submitted the information as we still had
an hour until the deadline, but that did not matter to them. They made a big
production about the procedures of registration and left informing us they
would levy a fine to us the next day. Lucky for us, we know a fairly high level
police officer and he arranged to meet the 6 officers in a coffee shop and
discuss the matter. With the help of the friend and my wife, we were able to
settle with the police and ended up having to foot their food bill instead of a
fine. We were also given the phone numbers of the police with assurances that
they would help us in the future if we had any issues…….. Great I thought…..
Christmas time and the tax people are back!! They find that
my night receptionist has not yet registered the guests with the tax department
and it is 10 pm…. The deadline. The next day we are called in to discuss the
fine. Huh…. OK….. This is starting to smell a bit. Fines seem to be very
negotiable. Anyway… Shortly after Christmas, 2 police officers show up looking
for donations to their station. Our receptionist politely declines and the two
after look nervously at the security camera, and then ask who the police man we know is
by name…… Hmmmmmm…. Why would they ask that? I am now beginning to think that
our horns are locked. I do know the other businesses are making “donations” but
I will have none of it.
Tet comes and I am again paid a surprise visit by the
police. Darn!! I am finally thinking maybe we are turning a profit…….. But
no….. They find some small flaw with our tax signage (not their department),
and again we have a fine. Up until now, I have never seen the receipt for the
fine paid, so now I insist that I get a copy of the fine and receipt. The
police really did not seem to like this but complied. HaH!! A small victory! At
least I know where the money is going. OK……… holidays are over and it is back
to business, or so I thought. BANG!! The tax people are here again and after
snooping around, they decide that we must be fined for not having the room
rates posted in all the rooms……. Whaa????? I have never seen or heard of such a thing. Now I am sure that they are looking
for anything to punish us for not playing the game. Again…. Any thought of a
profitable month disappears. Just a few nights past, again were stormed by
police. This time they seized all Id’s and passports and proceeded to barge
into everybody’s rooms. All of our records are accurate and information
entered…. There should be no problem. In the end, we were told that every
person that is in the building has to have the id in our possession……… again….
Whaa?? There are foreigners that refuse
to give up their passports, and families that travel without the id of their
children. Again this is costing us and the profits disappear
Wow! I now understand the desirability of renting the rooms
by the hour instead of by the night. At least you will have an empty hotel when
they show up.
To those of you that want to run a small business in Vietnam, take
heed. There is still some work for the government to do to get the corruption
under control. If it looks like you are successful (even if you are only trying
to break even), you will get some surprise visitors. For us…….. we still chug
away trying to have a happy little hotel in the midst of the chaos. Our staff
and most expenses get paid, but sadly, the hotel owners do not…. That is OK… We
came here to retire and as long as our cost of living is covered….. we should
be happy…. But one day… people will wonder where all of the foreigners that
used to spend their money in our jurisdiction have gone.
What a bunch of losers. We will continue not to feed the
greedy little gremlins and insist on written receipts for our fines.