Tourism pines for return to normality

March 16, 2021 | 10:52
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With nations around the world actively deploying vaccines to cope with COVID-19, the idea of vaccine passports is gradually being discussed as a way to reopen free travel between countries. Among them, Vietnam is also working on plans to revive its international tourism market as soon as possible.
tourism pines for return to normality
Tourists will return to Vietnam as soon as authorities have decided on safe solutions

On March 8, Minister of Health Anutin Charnvirankul said that Thailand will reduce its mandatory quarantine from 14 to seven days for foreigners arriving in the country who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Just a few days earlier, the Thai government also announced its Area Hotel Quarantine plan to welcome more foreign tourists from April. This arrangement will be piloted in five provinces popular for tourism – Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi, Surat Thani (Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan), and Chon Buri (Pattaya). The plan will be operated via 29 travel agencies supervised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Foreign tourists who opt into this new arrangement will be required to remain in their hotel rooms for the first three days of their stay. They will then be tested for COVID-19 and, if found negative, they will be given freedom of the resort for the remainder of the quarantine period. At the end of the period, they will once again be tested and if found clean, given leave to travel freely.

Not only Thailand, Indonesian tourist paradise Bali has also started preparations to reopen for mass tourism with what it calls “The Green Zone”.

Bali governor Wayan Koster announced the scheme under which COVID-free zones will be made accessible for international tourists. These areas will include popular destinations like Ubud, Kuta, Nusa Dua, and Nusa Penida where there is a low incidence of the virus – with reinforced health and safety measures to keep it so.

Singapore now also allows short-term tourist visits from Australia, Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Vietnam, subject to securing an Air Travel Pass and taking a PCR test on arrival. It is also gradually reopening for business tourism.

Along with reopening the sector in these countries, airlines are also rolling out numerous incentives to get people on board again.

Singapore Airlines offers customers a complimentary rebooking policy which allows unlimited date changes for bookings made prior to June 30, irrespective of booking class.

In addition, it is trialling the vaccine passports of the International Air Transport Association on March 15-24 on flights from London. If the process goes well, the airline will consider rolling the system out across the entire fleet.

Etihad Airways has introduced COVID-19 insurance cover attached to every ticket for travel up to September 30. Elsewhere, besides discounts and a more generous baggage allowance, Emirates also brought back the My Emirates Pass, an exclusive offer to turn boarding passes into membership cards, giving customers deals and discounts in restaurants, leisure destinations, and retail outlets across the UAE.

On March 8, Vietnam started vaccinations beginning with frontline workers and healthcare staff, reinforcing the belief that the pandemic will soon be under control and that heavily affected economic sectors, such as tourism, will recover and develop quickly.

According to deputy director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, Vietnam is working on measures to gradually open the international tourism market.

Currently, decision-makers and advisors are evaluating potential source markets to open travel with and the number of tourists to be allowed into the country, as well as medical factors such as vaccination and quarantine rules.

In the context of countries in the region moving in growing numbers to welcome international visitors, the idea of Vietnam also reviving international tourism has received support from many travel agencies.

Some businesses said that Vietnam has conducted an effective online marketing campaign during the pandemic to keep interest alive in foreign markets while also generating great confidence in its ability to prevent and respond to outbreaks.

Others warned of the need for timely preparation so that Vietnam would not lose this advantage in the competition with other destinations like Thailand, Indonesia, or Singapore which are pushing heavily towards reopening their borders.

Nguyen Ngoc Toan, director of Images Travel said, “Looking at the example of other countries, while it is definitely not easy to open up tourism, it can be done with sufficient caution.”

He suggested that first Vietnam could pilot providing entry to business travellers from countries in the region with which Vietnam has many business connections such as Japan, South Korea, or Singapore. Entry without a quarantine requirement could be granted to those certifiable vaccinated.

Even with the prospects of reopening the country’s borders to international visitors, many experts forecast 2021 to be a difficult year for Vietnamese tourism businesses, particularly those focusing on international visitors. Currently, Vietnam is only allowing the entry of experts and foreign technical staff arriving to work in Vietnam, as well as cargo drivers at road border crossings.

In the first two months, the country welcomed 28,700 foreign visitors, less than 1 per cent of the figure from the year prior. Therefore, domestic travellers remain the main market as the tourism season of March-September arrives.

“Even though international tourists make up only a quarter of domestic travellers, they represent a tremendous source of income. The market needs to be reopened for international visitors as soon as possible – while ensuring safety, of course – if Vietnam is to capitalise on its hard-earned advantages,” said Hoang Nhan Chinh, head of the Secretariat of the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board.

By Truc Oanh

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