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Vietnam considers reopening Phu Quoc Island to foreign tourists: vice-minister

Friday, June 05, 2020, 16:39 GMT+7
Vietnam considers reopening Phu Quoc Island to foreign tourists: vice-minister
Tourists swim on Gam Ghi Island, part of Phu Quoc Island off the southern province of Kien Giang, Vietnam. Photo: Truc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Phu Quoc Island off the southern province of Kien Giang is poised to resume allowing international tourists to visit as Vietnam continues to see success in containing the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism Trinh Thi Thuy told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in a recent interview that the ministry is mulling over steps to open its doors to foreign visitors to several islands, particularly Phu Quoc.

The move is intended to get the country’s struggling tourism back on track, Thuy said, adding that steps are currently being taken to boost domestic tourism and welcome foreign tourists.

“We have controlled the outbreak well, so domestic tourism should be restructured. We are reaching a new stage and, given the recent restart of the domestic tourism market, we are producing positive outcomes,” she said.

The second stage in restarting the country’s tourist industry, according to the deputy minister, is reopening borders to countries that have successfully curbed the spread of the virus and are no longer reporting cases of community transmission.

“We’ll focus on nations that have bilateral cooperation programs related to tourism exchanges with Vietnam,” Thuy said.

She also revealed that Vietnam could create a ‘travel bubble’ with Southeast and Northeast Asian countries, including China, Japan, and South Korea, as well as several high-spending tourism markets, such as Australia and New Zealand, in order to prevent the disease from resurging in the country.

Such a plan is still pending an official proposal and subsequent approval by the central government.

Tourists pose for photos on Hom May Island, part of Phu Quoc Island off the southern province of Kien Giang, Vietnam. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Tourists pose for photos on Hon May Rut (May Rut Island), part of Phu Quoc Island off the southern province of Kien Giang, Vietnam. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Phu Quoc Island will be the guinea pig for the idea, Thuy said, adding that the ministry will team up with tourism associations, industry businesses, and provincial authorities to prepare a necessary protocol for welcoming international tourists.

Notably, the ministry will collaborate with the Ministry of Transport in holding talks with national carrier Vietnam Airlines, budget carrier Vietjet, and other overseas airlines to allow the gradual resumption of international flights.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security will work together to reissue visas to foreign nationals.

Thuy stressed that opening borders, specifically Phu Quoc’s, can only happen if all parties involved comply with regulations on disease prevention and control.

Her ministry, she said, will cooperate with the Ministry of Health to lay down a set of relevant criteria for incoming travelers.

The deputy minister declined to give a specific timeframe for the pilot scheme.

“We will only open our doors to international visitors to Vietnam, initially to its islands, when we meet necessary conditions for the sake of the people’s safety and health. That is a top priority,” she noted.

Tourists walk along Bai Khem, one of the most beautiful beaches on Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: K.Nam / Tuoi Tre

Tourists walk along Bai Khem, one of the most beautiful beaches on Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: K.Nam / Tuoi Tre

Phu Quoc ready to welcome foreign visitors

Tran Chi Dung, director of Kien Giang Province’s tourism department, told Tuoi Tre that Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has introduced a visa exemption scheme for foreigners visiting the island, effective from July 1.

The scheme gives a significant procedural advantage, creating psychological comfort among tourists, said Dung.

He predicted that the central government will give Kien Giang Province the go-ahead to bring international tourists back toward the end of this year.

“The general principle is to be prepared for measures to control and prevent community transmission [of COVID-19] from tourists,” he said.

Thu Tam, who owns a seafood stall in the Phu Quoc night market, said the absence of European tourists has led to change in the island’s atmosphere.

“Foreign visitors spend a similar amount of money to domestic tourists, but they make the night market much more lively,” she said.

Nguyen Thuc Giap, the owner of a grilled food stall in Duong Dong Town, said that when the virus emerged, he and his fellow residents became highly anxious.

“The climate is warm on the island. The government has controlled the outbreak well, so I expect [authorities] to resume international flights as soon as possible to bring back foreign visitors for us to do business,” he said.

All the quarantine systems are operational at Phu Quoc International Airport, according to its director Nguyen Minh Dong.

He said remote body temperature monitoring devices, quick COVID-19 testing systems, temporary isolation wards, and ambulances are available while heath workers stand ready at the airdrome.

“Once the government gives permission, the airport will prepare to welcome international tourists to the ‘pearl island,’” Dong said.

Foreign visitors browse a food stall within the Phu Quoc night market on Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Foreign visitors visit a food stall at the Phu Quoc night market on Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Around 12,000 tourists visit Phu Quoc daily

As the COVID-19 outbreak weakened in Vietnam, authorities in the district of Phu Quoc, which administers Phu Quoc Island, urged those firms in the local tourism sector to refurbish their facilities and take environmental sanitation measures, said the district’s vice-chairman Nguyen Van Nghiep.

Nghiep added the food court at the Phu Quoc night market reopened its doors nearly a month ago and has been bustling ever since.

Local hotels and resorts have recovered their revenues, compared with the pre-pandemic period. The average room occupancy has amounted to 70 percent or more.

The island currently accommodates around 12,000 visitors, including about 8,000 arriving by air, per day.

Vietnam reported no new COVID-19 cases on Friday, with less than eight percent of the 328 patients remaining in treatment.

The Southeast Asian nation has reported no community transmission for the past 50 days, according to the Ministry of Health.

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Pham Nhat - Ngoc An - Khoa Nam - H.T.Dung / Tuoi Tre News

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