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How should Vietnam prepare for post-pandemic tourism recovery?

Friday, May 29, 2020, 22:13 GMT+7
How should Vietnam prepare for post-pandemic tourism recovery?
Visitors stand on the bank of the Thu Bon River in Hoi An Ancient Town, located in the central province of Quang Nam, in February 2020. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre

Editor's note: Two expats who have worked in Vietnam’s tourist industry for the past several years have offered their perspectives on post-COVID-19 tourism in the country and how it can best set itself up for a strong recovery.

Vietnam’s tourism begins its comeback after the relaxation of the country’s social distancing measures meant to curb the virus spread.

In an effort to boost the country’s tourism recovery, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has announced a sixth-month campaign encouraging Vietnamese citizens to travel domestically to support local businesses, considering the domestic market the primary driver for the industry’s recovery as the borders are still closed to international tourists.

Tuoi Tre News asked Australian Frank Bochmann, who has worked as general manager for Starwood/Marriott projects in Vietnam for years, and German Sven Albert Saebel, general manager of Sunrise Premium Resort & Spa Hoi An in the central city of Hoi An, for their thoughts on the potential of Vietnamese tourism to recover, as well as the steps the industry should take to prepare for the future.

Their following comments have been edited by Tuoi Tre News for clarity, consistency, and coherence.

From your observation, how has tourism in Vietnam been affected by COVID-19?

Bochmann: COVID-19 has completely halted tourism activities, not only in Vietnam but pretty much the whole world. I don’t think that people outside the tourism industry completely understand how big the disruption is and how many people this affects. It’s not just hospitality workers in hotels and travel/tour operators (which number in the thousands), but also the families that rely on them to fill their rice bowls at home. For every hotel worker, travel/tour operator, there are also about four merchants, suppliers, farmers, shop owners, and drivers that rely on tourists to come to Vietnam and holiday or conduct business meetings, conferences, and exhibitions.

To reboot the flow and growth that the tourism sector has enjoyed over the last six years will take at least three years.

There are many investors who have invested large sums in building big and beautiful hotels, resorts, and luxury facilities. These people will have a very difficult time until the flights can bring business back to Vietnam.

The entire aviation sector will need to make some serious adjustments before people can be comfortable about getting into an aluminum envelope and sharing an air conditioning system with hundreds of strangers, except when there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

Frank Bochmann is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

Frank Bochmann is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.

Saebel: Vietnam’s tourism sector has been tragically affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. Airlines, hotels, restaurants, laundry facilities, amusement parks, transport companies, tour operators, and homestay owners have all seen their business come to a standstill. The loss of revenue and livelihoods for Vietnamese employees and entrepreneurs alike in all spheres is devastating and the real effects will only be seen as savings and cash funds dry up.

Many local travel companies and accommodation sites are offering big discounts in the hope of attracting more tourists. What do you think about these measures? 

Bochmann: In my opinion, it will likely encourage some cash flow in the short term. Dropping prices and giving discounts are not a long-term solution for the industry, otherwise operators would likely have to pay their staff and suppliers less. In the long run, this could reduce the standards and quality of Vietnam’s tourism sector and lessen its attractiveness as a holiday destination.

Saebel: Local tourism can certainly offer a certain supply of customers; however, with the massive hotel expansion which we have experienced over the last few years, it is impossible to fill rooms in a profitable way. We certainly see reluctance in F&B sectors, with once crowded restaurants currently sparsely occupied. During times of emergency, people tend to lean toward frugality and the luxury of a hotel stay becomes an unnecessary expense.

The wild discounting of accommodations is a trend we’re seeing particularly with Hoi An homestays and budget accommodations. This is helping local businesses bring in basic income.  When it comes to 4- and 5-star resorts and hotels, the trend of discounting is also a good way to attract domestic travelers, though this could lead to a reduction in service quality as businesses work to keep costs under control.

Sven Albert Saebel is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

Sven Albert Saebel is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

In your opinion, what else should tourism businesses in Vietnam do to get more customers and boost revenues?

Bochmann: Ideally, now is the time to work with and train associates. Contemporary tourists are looking for a personalized experience – something they can talk about when they get back to their families, friends, and colleagues. Now is the time to ask what we can sell tourists, MICE organizers, and destination wedding specialists that they can only experience in Vietnam. It is experiences and interaction with the Vietnamese people, authentic Vietnamese food, and Vietnamese culture, as well as beautiful weather and scenery that we need to concentrate on.

Saebel: Providing confidence in airplane travel and a safe stay in Vietnam is extremely important.  Vietnamese tourism should also have programs for domestic holidaymakers to support Vietnam and local businesses, similar to what Australia and Europe are doing this year to keep the industry open and alive.

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Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

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