|Getting ready for welcoming foreign visitors to Vietnam |
During the outbreak of COVID-19, Anna, a French woman who has been working in Vietnam for nearly three years, did not return to France but chose to stay in Hanoi. She said that since being unable to travel abroad between May and early July, she and her friends had made several trips to many cities in Vietnam. “At that time, the Vietnamese tourism industry was implementing the first stimulus programme, and tour prices plummeted amid the many attractive incentive programmes. This strategy had instant results because when I went to any tourist destination, I found that they were full of Vietnamese tourists. Sometimes I wanted to find somewhere private and less noisy, but this was very difficult as many high-end hotels and resorts had to lower their prices significantly,” Anna said.
After controlling the pandemic at the beginning of May, Vietnamese tourism industry launched the largest domestic tourism stimulus programme ever with the slogan “Vietnamese travel Vietnam”. The programme was mainly aimed at domestic customers with typical tours suitable for the needs of Vietnamese.
Without international tourists, most travel businesses, including those that previously specialised in serving foreigners, focused on building products to serve domestic tourists with growing demand. Therefore, the few foreigners living in Vietnam, who like tranquillity and privacy like Anna, found it difficult to find these qualities at popular destinations.
However, this difficulty could be solved as recently, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has officially launched a second domestic tourism stimulus programme with the theme “Vietnamese tourism – safe and attractive”, which will be deployed in the last months of 2020. Not only limited to Vietnamese guests, this programme will also be expanded to attracting foreigners living in Vietnam as well as the more than 5,000 international visitors per week when international flights are resumed.
Nguyen Trung Khanh, director general of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) said, “The visitor mindset is no longer like before, but more cautious. Besides expanding to tourists other than domestic ones, many new products and improvements are being studied to be included in this stimulus scenario.”
No mass tourism
Hoang Nhan Chinh, head of the secretariat of the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), said that the programme discussed with the VNAT, representatives of airlines, and travel agencies is not going to promote mass tourism but aims to stimulate demand for each destination while upholding safety criteria. According to Chinh, besides new products, many tourism businesses have proposed insurance packages tailored to the needs of a pandemic.
“We will cooperate with airlines to create passenger flows. Equally important is the timing of the stimulus programme. Consumer sentiment is now different, and therefore we cannot rush but need to choose the right time when people feel safe and trust our services,” said Chinh.
Lessons of the first stimulus package show that all efforts are immediately in vain should new infections be found, leading to a sudden increase in the number of tourists cancelling tours. Therefore, travel companies no longer want to offer tours with many tourists. Instead, tourism businesses are focusing on investing in products and upgrading their experiences in a way that is more interesting and safer. Currently, most offered tour products on the market are mainly short-term ones aimed at experiencing nature, culture, and relaxation for families and groups of visitors on weekends.
Despite the efforts to offer new and attractive tour products, according to the assessment of travel companies, the capacity to sell tours at this time is only at about 30 per cent compared to June and July. “At the time being, many tourist spots have not reopened yet, and visitors are still cautious. Moreover, it is also low season, so it will not be easy to revive the industry,” said Tran Trung Kien, Vietrantour’s deputy head of marketing and communications.
However, many tourism businesses also expect some international routes to reopen immently, which will help to bring back international tourists in the final months of the year – that is if the pandemic remains under control in the country.
Localities stimulate demand
Along with the tourism industry, many destinations in Vietnam are also launching new products and attractive programmes. As one of the destinations most affected by the recurrence of COVID-19 and the implementation of the social distancing order from the end of July, Hoi An started to welcome tourists again at its Bay Mau coconut forest in Cam Thanh commune.
Meanwhile, Danang is planning to launch tourism programmes for locals and neighbouring localities. From this month, the city will welcome guests from other localities, with plans to be open for foreign visitors from December. Other tourist centres such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City also have plans to welcome visitors and stimulate tourism again, such as by reopening entertainment services like bars, karaoke parlours, walking streets, and more.
Recently, Quang Ninh province launched a new tourism stimulus package worth about VND100 billion ($4.3 million) to attract tourists. Quang Ninh continues to extend the 50 per cent discount for tickets to Halong Bay for both daytime and overnight visitors until December 31. Guests visiting Halong Bay on major holidays are also free to visit.
Vietnam is not the first country to restimulate tourism. Just as anti-pandemic restrictions in some ASEAN member countries gradually loosened, hotels and tourist attractions have begun racing to restart the industry, focusing mainly on domestic tourists. As such, Thailand issued a domestic tourism stimulus package worth $718 million to revitalise domestic tourism. Singapore also introduced a voucher programme worth $233 million to stimulate domestic consumption. Meanwhile, Malaysia has launched a special tourism stimulus package for civil servants in the capital.
Nguyen Cong Hoan - General director Hanoi Red Tours
September is a low season for tourism, and many families begin to tighten their belts due to economic difficulties, so the need to go out and relax will not be as large as before. With this second stimulus package, tour prices are no longer attractive factors, and businesses need to offer unique products that bring a different experience to visitors.
Instead of massively focusing on all destinations, this time we offer products with some beautiful destinations such as the northwest, the Central Highlands, and western Vietnam. Instead of offering large discounts, we focus on new, attractive, and impressive quality for tourists.
Nguyen Ngoc Bich - Director Mekong Rustic
The second tourism stimulus programme is necessary, but it is difficult to create a strong effect like the first one. As it is rainy season, Vietnamese will not travel very much. Meanwhile, after several waves of outbreaks, most foreigners living in Vietnam saw their income being affected, so they tend to gradually tighten expenses too.
Therefore, if travelling, foreign visitors only dare to go to nearby locations and often have high safety requirements, which is very difficult to manage.
Currently, I am working with a few domestic travel companies to build several tour packages for Vietnamese guests, focusing on small groups of friends and family and offering experiences like going to the countryside, participating in cooking, catching fish, and roasting chicken.
Although some international routes have been resumed, I think we will not have a chance to welcome foreign visitors until the second quarter or third quarter of 2021. We are not in a hurry and will wait until the foreign tourism market recovers.