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|Key attractions across Vietnam are beginning to see recovery in visitor figures. Photo: Hoang Manh Thang|
After a short time shutting down for disinfection in line with preventing the spread of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, famous sights and monuments in Hanoi have since reopened to welcome visitors. A relaxing, peaceful and safe Hanoi is what all international visitors coming to the capital city look for during these spring days.
Despite the goings-on elsewhere, groups of visitors have still been flocking to Hoan Kiem Lake area for a walk, heading on leisurely sightseeing tours on cyclo rides or double-decker buses, perusing the shops around the Old Quarter, and enjoying world-famous Vietnamese street food. Most of tourists have come from Europe, the US, Japan, and India.
Sipping a cup of Hanoian signature coffee, Croatian traveller Dovis shared with VIR that he was worried when reading on internet that Vietnam had been among the countries affected by COVID-19 outbreak, just before his trip. “But the situation was completely different when we actually arrived in Vietnam,” he said. “Everything is great and well controlled. We feel very comfortable enjoying our stay because Vietnam, as we now see, is a safe and friendly place.”
These words, echoed by other globetrotters, have produced a good sign for Vietnam’s tourism industry, as some of the major hotspots have begun to record a significant recovery of international visitor arrivals.
According to statistics from Hanoi Department of Tourism, the city has been seeing stable growth in number of visitors. Currently the number of Asian visitors to Hanoi account for 65 per cent, while European ones contribute 25 per cent to international arrivals, with the remaining 10 per cent from other markets.
Due to the impact of the virus epidemic, the number of Chinese tourists dropped sharply – however in return, travellers from other markets are increasing steadily, with Japan up 200 per cent and India up 65 per cent. In addition, European tourists coming to Vietnam have been reporting a gradual upturn.
At this point, many travel agencies such as Hanoitourist, Vietrantour, and Hanoi Redtour, among others have started seeking directions to expand their markets, actively welcoming guests from Europe, the US, and Australia to Vietnam and vice-versa.
According to Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, the good news is that the number of visitors to heritage sites there during early February has been stable, especially when the number of international visitors is sweeping at some 6,000 each day. Thua Thien-Hue Department of Tourism said that attractions still remain open and the number of visitors has also been secured despite the epidemic. This result stems from the fact that traditional visitor markets in Hue are mostly from Western Europe, North America, and Northeast Asia.
In the meantime, unlike an “isolated desert” as predicted, the long-standing hotspot of Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa province has captured a decent number of international visitors, especially Russian tourists. In the areas of Hung Vuong, Tran Phu, and Tran Quang Khai streets, which are said to contain the Western communities of Nha Trang, those bustling scenes have returned with the appearance of many holidaymakers.
In January, more than 54,000 Russian travellers came to Khanh Hoa, and it is estimated that the number of Russian visitors in the first quarter of 2020 will increase by 10 per cent on-year. The locality will also co-ordinate with some airlines to effectively carry out promotion programmes in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and further afield in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and India in the near future.
Taking his Malaysian tourist group to My Son Sanctuary in the central province of Quang Nam after the Danang and Hoi An tours, founder of World Mate Travel Nguyen Van Tu said that these spots are still crowded with sightseers, the majority of whom come from European and Western countries, as well as Malaysia, Cambodia, and South Korea. “The outbreak does not seem to be a problem here. My tourist groups, and the other groups as well, are optimistic and look like they are having a good time visiting attractions in Vietnam,” said Tu.
At a recent meeting with head of office and UNESCO representative in Vietnam Michael Croft, Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Trinh Thi Thuy asserted that Vietnam remains a safe travel destination amid the global COVID-19 crisis.
Nearly one month after Vietnam’s prime minister officially declared the outbreak an epidemic in Vietnam, the tourism industry has faced heavy losses due to a slash of 50-60 per cent in the number of international arrivals. According to Ngo Hoai Chung, vice chairman of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), the total estimated damage in the first quarter of 2020 may reach $7 billion.
However, with the determination that “Every tourist is safe in Vietnam”, the country’s VNAT has collaborated with localities and relevant businesses to implement timely measures to prevent a wider spread, and to minimise exposure risk and damage caused by COVID-19. As a result, Vietnam has successfully blocked the outspread of COVID-19 to date. In addition, two out of four Vietnamese localities with infected cases – Khanh Hoa and Thanh Hoa – are already set to declare an end of COVID-19 after recording no new cases for 30 days.
Chung said the tourism industry has always considered travellers to Vietnam and their safety as one of the top priorities. In addition, the country vows to strictly monitor and control the epidemic; therefore, tourists from other countries and territories outside the epicentres can be assured of their safety when entering Vietnam.
Hanoi Department of Culture and Sports has closely co-operated with the local Department of Tourism to carry out disinfection at top attractions and relics where most guests gather. Some organisations and businesses also proactively participate in epidemic prevention awareness activities for tourists – for instance, free face mask distribution programmes around the city by Hanoi UNESCO Travel Club.
Representatives from major hotels in Hanoi such as Movenpick, Grand Vista, Sheraton, InterContinental, and Daewoo said they have implemented disinfecting solutions, providing face masks and hand gels to tourists. Many hotels have even equipped their own body temperature monitors on arrival and exit, or set up an in-house medical team that remains on call.
In Ho Chi Minh City, there are also free masks distributions at certain spots to serve local people and visitors around Notre Dame Cathedral, the central post office, Saigon Opera House, Reunification Hall, and the War Remnants Museum.
Besides that, all daily high-speed trains from Bach Dang Wharf in District 1 to Vung Tau are disinfected between each trip. In parallel, staff will check passenger body temperatures upon boarding. The trains are also arranged with disinfectant hand sanitisers and face masks so that every passenger coming to Ho Chi Minh City can be ensured safety.
At other renowned tourist destinations like Hoi An, Danang, Nha Trang, and Phu Quoc, major businesses such as Vingroup and Sun Group all conduct proper epidemic prevention measures in their premises. Meanwhile, travel agencies and hotel businesses are also constantly updating health protection recommendations from the Ministry of Health to globetrotters and backpackers.
Thus, with constant effort and collaborative work from many parties, Vietnam’s tourism industry seems to be weathering the storm and imprinting a better impression on international visitors, branding itself a safe and friendly destination even in the most difficult of times.
Nathanael Rollands - French tourist
My journey throughout Vietnam has been nothing but incredible. I knew there were several COVID-19 patients here, and I was a bit worried so I went to pharmacies to find face masks but they had all run out. However, Vietnam really made my day as I was walking around Hoan Kiem Lake when young volunteers gave me six face masks for three of us for free. I admire this small but strong country because Vietnam has long borders with China, but yet there have been very few cases, and most of them are already cured, which is amazing.
Christiane Serraut - French tourist
I have been in Vietnam for three weeks. I feel sad that I have to leave tomorrow because Vietnam is great. The services I have received have been superb. I was excited before coming to Vietnam, even it has been during this outbreak, but this country is still so charming that I was not at all worried of the virus. We didn’t think and talk about it. We are just on holiday and we will sure tell other groups to be carefree to come to Vietnam. There’s barely any risk here. Just buy the tickets, and enjoy.
Elise Quinn - Australian tourist
I think the government and the tourism industry have done a good job keeping visitors safe. Some of the sightseeing spots I have gone to in Hanoi are properly equipped with protective utilities for tourists. We have also had our body temperatures checked upon entering several places, for example Hoa Lo Prison. I really appreciate Vietnam’s efforts in preventing and combating COVID-19.
Wayne Woods - General manager, Eastin Grand Hotel Saigon
Vietnam is one of the top 10 destinations for Chinese travellers, hence the impact of the virus and subsequent travel bans are certainly being felt across the hospitality industry. I suggest the government looks at potential tax benefits to assist businesses. This is something that has been implemented in my home country of Australia.It is also a good time to focus on domestic tourism and promoting travel within the country.
Ngo Tien Duc - COO, Luxury Travel
With the practical solutions we are implementing, besides a number of rescheduling plans, some customers have expressed a positive response, saying that they feel comfortable during the tour. An optimistic point on our prevention measures is the drop in cancellation rates because most of our customers are from North America and Europe, though our sales in February reported a 70 per cent on-year cut.