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|The hospitality sector, among others, are taking precautions to ensure travellers continuing to tour the country can be safe and enjoy themselves|
According to Google Trends, while Europeans currently search for keywords such as “Brexit” and Americans for “basketball” or “hot movies”, most of Vietnam’s news circles around face masks and the novel coronavirus, or nCoV.
This small comparison reflects what is happening in the country at the moment. Since the outbreak in Wuhan, Vietnam’s tourism was hit by the absence of Chinese tourists in many of its top destinations such as Nha Trang, Danang, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi. In addition, many other foreign nationals cancelled bookings for tours and accommodation out of fear related to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to statistics by Hanoi’s Tourism Department, in January the number of international tourists declined by 9 per cent, of which Chinese tourists accounted for 47 per cent. Over the last few weeks, tourist agencies in the capital received accommodation cancellations from more than 7,600 domestic and 7,100 international guests, while the transportation sector suffered a decrease of 30-50 per cent.
Danang’s tourism sector lost over 60 per cent of its usual arrivals from China while the total number of tourists to the coastal city went down by 33 per cent on-year. Elsewhere, Lao Cai’s tourism suffered from around 10,000 Chinese tourists who cancelled previously-made registrations, causing hotels to face 30-50 per cent in room cancellations since the nCoV outbreak.
According to a Vietravel representative, the company cancelled 60 groups of Chinese tourists to Vietnam and continues to cancel all tours until the end of March. Vietrantour, another travel company, also cancelled 20 Chinese tourist groups with damage of about VND5.6 billion ($243,000). The manager of Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi shared that 20 per cent of the hotel bookings were cancelled and that this number continues to increase. The hotel has suspended all bookings by Chinese tourists.
Ha Van Huong, outbound operator of Viet Image Inter Travel Co., Ltd., said “All our Chinese travel partners cancelled tours to Vietnam, so we nearly lost all previously paid expenditures for visa and hotel bookings. We have not yet calculated how many losses we will suffer because we cannot deal with our partners now. However, we plan to close our company at least for the next 5-6 months or until the Chinese market recovers.”
Amid the nCoV outbreak, Vietnam is seeing a sharp cutback of tourists not only from China but also other Asian countries like South Korea or Japan. However, on the bright side, visitors are still coming from Western Europe, the US, and Australia.
Nguyen Thu Trang, director of sales and marketing at Indochina Sails – a luxury cruise operator on Halong Bay – told VIR that although they have been encountering some fluctuations because transit routes through Taiwan were blocked last week, their business has not suffered much damage because their main customers are coming from Europe.
“European customers are still going on their planned trips despite being conscious about the outbreak,” Trang said. She added that there has been a small number of cancellations.
“Our customers only suggest to us that during the epidemic, we should not organise buffet meals but set menus instead,” Trang added.
According to Trang, the media could be one of the reasons why groups of tourists from Europe, Australia, and the US still continue to come. In many of those countries the information, especially about nCoV, is more strictly and carefully spread.
Some tourist attractions in Hanoi, such as the pedestrian street around Hoan Kiem Lake or Ta Hien street, have become more sparsely visited due to the absence of Asian visitors. Western tourists, most of whom do not use face masks when walking around and still seem to be calm and optimistic, continue participating in recreational activities.
“I do not worry about the novel coronavirus,” said Sofia from Australia. “So far, it does not seem to become a very serious health crisis in Vietnam.”
Sandra, a Danish tourist told VIR, “Vietnam is safe, we might say. But when staying in the middle of a crowd we prefer to wear face masks, just in case. We also keep track of updated news about the virus while continuing to tour as planned.”
Tourism experts in Vietnam also expressed an optimistic attitude as they believe that this is also a high time for Vietnamese tourism to seriously consider its goals and orientations for sustainable development.
“Apart from exploiting Chinese tourists, we should also pay attention to traditional markets like Western Europe and Northern America. Both generate large income and not put much pressure on the industry and social infrastructure,” said Pham Trung Luong, former deputy director at the Institute for Tourism Development Research.
To ensure tourists’ safety, Vietnam’s tourism industry is increasingly implementing measures to prevent epidemics and protect people’s health.
A number of tourist attractions in big cities have been mobilising volunteer groups to distribute face masks to tourists. On February 5 and 6, Hanoi also temporarily closed its famous tourist sites, including The Huc Bridge, Ngoc Son Temple, Thang Long Imperial Citadel and Temple of Literature to disinfect for preventing the spread of nCoV. Meanwhile, all recreational activities in the walking streets around Hoan Kiem Lake and most of local festivals are also temporarily postponed. It is expected that the festivals will resume operation as soon as the situation has calmed down.
Entertainment spots, tourist areas, hotels, and travel agencies have also quickly deployed health protection campaigns for customers and staff.
Sun Group uses disinfecting spray four times a day for its entire hotel and resort network, including Novotel Danang Premier Han River, Premier Village Danang Resort, and JW Marriot Phu Quoc, to name but a few. At the group’s entertainment facilities such as Sun World Fansipan Legend and Sun World Ba Na Hills, speakers and signs remind tourists to wear face masks and wash their hands regularly with soap.
In addition, thousands of bottles of a disinfectant solution are placed around public areas, toilets, and service counters. At airports and seaports, Sun Group also equipped its staff with body temperature meters, four-layer sterile medical masks, and medical gloves.
Elsewhere, Muong Thanh Hospitality also requires its employees to regularly wash their hands with anti-bacterial soap or alcohol-based water before serving its customers while also providing free masks for guests staying at Muong Thanh’s hotels in the country.
Trang from Indochina Sails said that the company has actively applied preventive measures for customers such as providing free hand-sanitisers, replacing wet towels, and providing disinfectant solution at every check-in and check-out, as well as distributing free medical masks and cleaning the floors with Cloramin B.
In addition, the firm also tightens food safety management by requiring food delivery units to ensure their delivery staff does not show any signs of fever and wear gloves and masks when delivering food. Cooking classes for its visitors have been replaced by cooking demonstration classes, at which guests are only allowed to watch but not to practice, to avoid possible infection scenarios.
Travel agencies are giving away free masks and disinfectant solutions to tourists, checking their body temperature regularly, and reminding guests to apply basic sanitary measures when going to public places.
With such practical actions in combating nCoV, Vietnam’s tourism industry is trying to show that the country is a safe destination for international tourists while at the same time limiting heavy losses caused by nCoV to the Vietnamese tourism industry.
Nicolas Cambier - Belgian tourist
This is the first time we have travelled to Vietnam, and we just came to Hanoi from Phu Quoc and our next stop will be Halong Bay. Right when we arrived at the airport, we had to go through a body temperature check-up, which is one thing that we appreciate about Vietnam’s attempts to control the nCoV outbreak.
We also received free face masks from the hotel where we are staying at. I have heard that there have been several cases here but it’s a minor number. Though my parents are quite worried whether we might get infected, we are still optimistic that Vietnam is doing a good job in preventing further spread.
Olivia and Briana Tremblay - Canadian tourists
While people tend to stay at home during epidemics, we chose to travel to places of which we think are safe. We are currently working in Shanghai, which is quite close to the epicentre of the nCoV outbreak. But, we left China in mid-January just before it became an “outbreak”. We are also trying to protect ourselves and others by wearing masks, using hand-sanitiser, and avoiding crowds. The destinations we are heading to are Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where the weather is very unfavourable for the virus to survive. Until now, I am not very worried about getting infected because preventing campaigns are everywhere and I myself am a person with quite a healthy immune system.
Gwen Vere - American tourist
This is my second day in Hanoi and I have been wearing a mask, just in case. I read the news frequently and, as I can see, Vietnam seems to be far from a dangerous place.
As an elderly person, I should be worried about my safety. And here, I try to put on masks most of the time when I am outside.
In addition, I exercise when I have time in order to increase my immune system. I also wash my hands, and use sanitiser regularly. It is a good thing at this point that there are not too many people on the streets, so I can enjoy the city more on my own. It is a real pity though, that some attractions are closed.
Le Anh Tuan - CEO Indochina Voyages Travel and Trading Co., Ltd.
Right when Vietnam announced the nCoV outbreak, Western customers received information about the disease from the beginning. All requests to cancel or postpone tours are carefully inquired and focus on satisfying customers’ wishes.
For those who do not postpone or cancel trips, we constantly update them with official news from within Vietnam and the region, so that customers can get a transparent overview about their destination.
With many groups, we also suggest visiting more tropical areas such as Ho Chi Minh City, Thailand, Cambodia, or Myanmar to make them feel more secure by the high temperature, which is a factor in reducing diseases.
Phong Vu - Executive director, Haydi Tour
When the coronavirus broke out, the number of people cancelling tours with our company accounted for 30-50 per cent.
Domestic and international tours for Vietnamese customers all dropped significantly, and some tours to China had to be cancelled and refunded to the customers.
For the event of a long-term epidemic, we have implemented a number of measures to ensure the safety of tourists, such as giving masks and sanitiser to visitors and guides.
In addition, the company also provides guides – these are in order to regularly check the health status of staff and that of the customers, and isolate guests who show signs of flu or fever when necessary.
Cuong Nguyen – Founder C-Brewmaster Beer JSC
Since the outbreak of the new virus in Vietnam, the number of tourists in Hanoi has decreased, and Vietnamese people have been eating out less often.
As a result, sales at the two C-Brewmaster restaurants in Luong Ngoc Quyen and Pham Huy Thong went down by 30-50 per cent.
In order to prevent the spread of the disease, we have required our employees to wear masks and wash their hands before preparing dishes for guests.
The two restaurants are also disinfected and cleaned regularly. In addition, we are also launching a new drink that uses a lot of passion fruit ingredients, contributing to the vitamin C supplement that helps customers increase their resistance to the flu.