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|Gloomy New Year for workers in tourism|
After nearly a decade of working as a tour guide, Ha Van Huong from Viet Image Inter Travel Co., Ltd. has never had as much spare time leading up to the holidays as he does this time around. For the first time, Huong is not expecting a Lunar New Year bonus – 90 per cent of his company’s customers are Chinese customers. So when the country became the focal point of the coronavirus outbreak a year ago, Huong’s company was completely closed down with no idea of when it would resume operations.
Five months after losing that role, Huong mainly lived on the income from a restaurant he owned in Lao Cai city. The restaurant specialised in serving Chinese delegations, but now inevitably serves Vietnamese guests. Although the number of tourists was sparse, it had enough financial backing to temporarily hold out until the end of November last year.
However, Huong had to make the hard decision of closing the restaurant by the end of 2020 and letting five employees go. “I can’t even afford to pay monthly salaries so Lunar New Year bonuses for employees are unrealistic. I also now have to switch to selling junk food to make a living. This year is truly a sad Lunar New Year,” she lamented.
Many workers in the tourism industry are in the same boat, sharing that they do not expect Lunar New Year bonuses. But just having work and getting a full monthly salary is enough to make most content in these times.
Nguyen Thi Mong Thu, a maid at InterContinental Nha Trang, said that she had just returned to the hotel to work in October. Thu’s previous average income was about VND7-8 million ($300-350) per month, but now it is barely more than VND3 million ($130). “Our staff hope the Lunar New Year will be crowded with tourists, so everyone can go to work to have an income to spend on the holiday,” Thu said.
Although the success of two domestic stimulus programmes launched by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism last May and July has partly added strength to help tourism businesses reduce their damage during international border closures, the complete shutdown of international tourist market has caused many related service businesses to almost freeze over the past year.
According to statistics from the National Administration of Tourism, the number of international visitors to Vietnam decreased by 80 per cent, domestic tourists fell by 45 per cent, and the damage to the tourism industry is estimated at about $23 billion. Nearly one-fifth of tourism businesses have had to let all employees go, while almost half lost between 50 and 80 per cent of their employees. Well over 300 international travel businesses last year applied for business licence revocation, three times higher compared to 2019.
The impact of the pandemic, followed by the consequences caused by natural disasters in the central region, has forced many tourism businesses to rely on the domestic market even to just operate intermittently. While most tourism businesses cannot afford holiday bonuses, some are still trying to set aside a small budget to motivate employees who have remained with them during the past 12 months.
Ha Nhan, the owner of both Saparis and Sapa Eco-home Mountain Retreat, said that thanks to a rapid transition from mainly European to domestic tourists, his operations were maintained last year. Currently, Nhan is still calculating what small Lunar New Year bonus she can offer her employees. “Because of the difficulties, the bonus will be much lower than usual, but we still need to motivate employees,” said Nhan.
According to Cao Tri Dung, chairman of the Danang Tourism Association, this year bonuses from tourism companies will be rare because of a sheer lack of revenues, and if any enterprise still has resources they will mainly be used to settle the lives of employees.
The status of tourism industry in the near term remains uncertain, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to batter national economies and negatively affecting the livelihoods of millions worldwide, who in normal times would be potential visitors and big spenders in Vietnam.