Tourists describe unique escapades

07:00 | 01/04/2020
As the dust settles on the mass closure of borders, rendering tourism all but nonexistent for the short-term at least, more stories have emerged of tourists changing plans, being helped by locals, and adjusting to daily changes in regulations before stricter lockdowns were put in place.
tourists describe unique escapades
As a dwindling number of tourists remain, precautions were taken at every level to ensure the safety of all travellers

In one example, Vietnamese expat forums and social networks were abuzz this month with the story of a European tourist who was struggling to find a hotel in Ninh Binh province.

“We just arrived in Hanoi from Austria two days ago, and it is really uncertain whether we should stay in Vietnam or not,” wrote Anna Marlena on March 15. She planned to go to Ninh Binh but all tourist attractions were closed. She didn’t know if she should go to the beach and try to relax there while she really didn’t want to go back to Austria because everything is in chaos there.

Anna’s post received hundreds of comments, with many people sympathising with her plight and suggesting that she could go somewhere in Vietnam still safe and open to foreign visitors, such as Ho Chi Minh City.

Meanwhile, representatives of some international travel agencies said that although there are still some overseas tourists in Vietnam, they will most probably have to cut their journey short as many destinations have stopped operating, an opinion that was proved right in the face of tighter movement controls.

“Nothing is as miserable as an epidemic season tour,” a tour guide shared on the Vietnam Safe Travel Facebook group.

According to the guide, this means having to be more aware of customers’ health, and changing the schedule to account for closures. “Many customers sympathise because of the global situation, but a lot of people are upset because the service is constantly changing.”

This is a difficulty shared by the entire tourism industry in Vietnam, not helped by the decision to stop operating international routes. And the restrictions have only been getting stronger on a daily basis.

According to a notice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, on March 18 Vietnam stopped issuing visas to foreigners entering Vietnam for a period of 30 days due to the complicated development of the disease.

The most famous tourist destinations in Vietnam have all been affected and been forced to close their doors, including attractions in Quang Ninh, Ninh Binh, Hanoi, Thanh Hoa, Quang Binh, and many others.

In response to last week’s situation, travel companies decided to postpone or cancel tours for international visitors. By this week, guests were being advised by their home countries to leave the country altogether.

Tran Xuan Hung, chairman of Viking Travel, said that an Indonesian group had plans to visit My Tho in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang on March 12, but upon receiving notice that the province was temporarily closed to foreign tourists, the company immediately set about turning the trip into a city tour exploring Ho Chi Minh City.

On travel forums, many businesses and guides exchanged and shared solutions and ideas to overcome these difficulties before strengthened restrictions were put in place, with the aim of giving visitors a good impression of a friendly, hospitable Vietnam.

“I haven’t seen Vietnam this quiet and beautiful for at least ten years. Stay strong and we’ll go through this difficult time together. What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger,” shared a member of Vietnam Safe Travel.

Safety measures have also been strengthened for the last remaining foreign tourists in Vietnam. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced a requirement for foreign citizens as well as Vietnamese citizens to wear face masks in public places.

Thanks to reminders from local travel agencies, foreigners are more aware of this obligation, and according to a VIR survey, tourists who were visiting and shopping at Ben Thanh Market have mostly used masks.

John, a tourist from Australia, said, “My apologies if it is impolite not to wear my mask here. The Vietnamese government has put in place sensible measures to protect people from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For overseas citizens still in Vietnam, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism had also proposed that hotels continue to serve guests until they leave, taking measures to ensure safety for everyone, and avoid discriminating against foreigners.

“We didn’t travel in the best of times, with establishments in Hoi An closing daily during our stay due to the threat of coronavirus. However, this didn’t spoil our stay, as we were very well looked after there,” wrote Chris and David from the United Kingdom. Two days before they were due to leave, their flight home was cancelled by the airline. A staff member at Santa Sea Hoi An Villa was an absolute godsend.

“With a smile, he calmly took over on our behalf, due to the language barrier, with our phones unable to be used in Vietnam. He contacted the airline and booked us another flight home, including an internal flight via Hanoi. We can’t thank him enough, and we will be back.”

Ngo Hoai Chung - Vice chairman Vietnam National Administration of Tourism

Following the prime minister’s direction in protecting the safety of tourists along with maintaining the image of Vietnam as a hospitable and safe destination, the VNAT has proposed the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to issue Document No.1169/BVHTTDL-TCDL requesting the localities to take stock of all foreign visitors in the area, and direct businesses and individuals, especially those in the tourist destinations to closely follow the Law on Tourism on committing no discrimination against foreign tourists.

Any signs of boycott and discrimination against foreign nationals could be imposed severe punishments. A list of tourism service establishments which will ensure disease preventing conditions will also be publicised for tourists to approach. Tourism industry has also proactively implemented thorough solutions on the prevention of the coronavirus outbreak, especially in the tourist destinations and accommodation establishments.

Vietnam in the recent years has been evaluated by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization as a safe and friendly tourist destination, and this has also been strengthened by many other prestigious travel awards given to the country.

While facing numerous challenges caused by the pandemic, Vietnam needs to try even harder to reaffirm its reputation that has been built over past years.

Upon receiving claims that a number of accommodations and tourism service providers in Vietnam refused to serve international tourists who are Chinese, South Korean, or the Western, the VNAT reported to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on rectifying local people’s behaviour towards tourists, detecting and strictly handling cases of discrimination against tourists, and improving facilities and service quality in the quarantine areas, especially for foreign visitors.

The VNAT will continue to request localities to supervise the compliance of Law on Tourism and relevant laws on tourism service business activities, and the implementation of the code of conduct for tourism issued by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

By Hoang Oanh

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