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|Fear of the novel coronavirus grows among foreign tourists, interrupting the business of hospitality firms|
Since the coronavirus outbreak last year in China's Wuhan, the number of tourists staying in popular hotels dropped by a significant margin, quite the opposite of the vibrancy reported at the same time last year. Tourism and hospitality is one of the industries sustaining the hardest hit.
Ho Chi Minh City has more than 4,500 accommodation facilities (one/two-star and unrated facilities account for more than 90 per cent). In general, gross revenue from hotel rooms, restaurants, and services plummeted by 70 per cent against the same period last year.
According to Mauro Gasparotti, director at Savills Hotels Asia-Pacific, there has been a reduction in Chinese travellers who accounted for more than 30 per cent of foreign tourists in the early of this year. In addition, Khanh Hoa Tourism Department noted that coastal destinations such as Nha Trang (Khanh Hoa) are going to be affected because Chinese tourists make up more than 70 per cent of foreign arrivals to these areas. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have also been affected by the decease in tourists, which resulted in a reduction of MICE tourism and suspension of meetings, conferences, as well as travel abroad.
In 2019, there were 138 million global visitors travelling to Southeast Asia. The number of tourists has been growing at 7.8 per cent compound annual growth rate over the last nine years, to be turned around since Asian countries are exposed to a higher risk of coronavirus infection. Thus, destinations like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are set for a temporary setback.
In the past, the world economy has been rocked by epidemics. The current coronavirus brings to mind the SARS epidemic of 2003. As soon as the breakout was confirmed, the World Health Organization (WHO) immediately issued a warning and recommended travellers to suspend all unnecessary visits to Hong Kong (China) on April 2, 2003. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the number of visitors dropped by 57.9 per cent in April-June compared to the same period in the previous year.
Rolling with the blow, restaurants and hotels took preventive measures to combat the epidemic by launching short-term services and drawing up more effective expenditure strategies. As Hong Kong tourism was dented by SARS but managed to survive, so will the Vietnamese hospitality industry have to deal with the coronavirus – and most restaurants and hotels have already begun implementing protective and preventive measures.
Phan Thanh Long, director of Rex Hotel Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City claimed that the hotel is following the safety guidances from the Ministry of Health. The countermeasures include keeping hygiene around the hotel as they usually do and supplying more hand sanitisers for staff and visitors. Moreover, the hotel required all staff to wear face masks when they interact with customers or others.
Likewise, Eastin Grand Hotel Saigon also gives top priority to the safety of their staff and customers, according to general director Wayne Woods. All staff and travellers are checked before entering the hotel. They thoroughly clean and disinfect all essential surfaces like bar counters or reception desks as required. In addition, hotel staff check visitors' temperature twice a day.
In this regard, Eldridge Johnson Mac Ewan III, general director at ParkRoyal Saigon, claimed that they request additional personal information from customers, such as unusual symptoms, previous trips and next destinations. All information is checked to identify suspicious cases. Those who come under suspicion will quarantined for 14 days. The hotel has also helped these tourists cancel their reservations without being charged.
Similarly, Saigontourist Group said that they have launched their first stimulus package. In particular, the group offers promotional prices for tourists across its system. The company has raised bargain prices for tourists who join travel fairs such as ITB Berlin in Germany, ITB Bombay in India, and ITA Asia in Singapore.
Tourism in Vietnam is undergoing short-term difficulties. However, business leaders showcase unbroken confidence that the situation is under total control.