Entrepreneurship in the Covid era

By Quynh Nguyen   October 6, 2021 | 06:53 am PT
"You have to be crazy to start a business now," Nguyen Thi Thanh's friends said when hearing she was building a homestay in Hanoi's Ba Vi District.

The 41-year-old from Nam Tu Liem District admits she understands why her friends are worried about her decision.

Before the pandemic, she used to earn a regular yearly revenue of VND50-80 billion ($2-3.5 million) from her travel company. But in March 2020, the outbreak caused all her tours to be canceled and she had to refund guests the money for air tickets and hotels.

"During my 20 years in the profession, my business has been devastated by both SARS and Covid-19," she recalled.

Even though Thanh closed down her travel company, she still wanted to embark on another business venture.

After doing some thinking, she released that even though there is a pandemic, social distancing makes people frustrated and suppressed. So people would want a quite, airy place to rest while still staying safe. So if a service satisfied this need, it would surely attract customers.

Overview of Nguyen Thi Thanhs homestay that was completed in June 2020. Photo courtesy of Thanh

Overview of Nguyen Thi Thanh's homestay, completed in June 2020. Photo courtesy of Thanh

At the time, a friend showed Thanh a piece of land in a mountainous area of Ba Vi and she came up with the idea of building an isolated homestay. In March 2020, she carried out the plan and brought her vision to life.

The homestay that Thanh built includes an apartment that is fully furnished and surrounded by hills and fields. It also has a swimming pool and garden. The apartment is watched over and cleaned around the clock.

While large resorts have temporarily suspended business, a homestay located right in the capital is the optimal choice for many families and an ideal vacation destination.

At the end of June last year, the homestay welcomed its first group of guests. After 10 days, the number of bookings hit full capacity up until the end of August. For holidays and Lunar New Year, guests must book a whole month in advance. From the beginning of this year until now, the number of bookings has remained at about 60-80 percent.

Statistics from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism show Covid-19 has created "an unprecedented crisis" for the industry when 90 percent of tourism businesses closed down, with nearly 20 percent of businesses in this sector across the country having to lay off staff.

According to Nguyen Ngoc Dung, vice president of Vietnam E-commerce Association, Covid-19 dampened the economy, but the difficulties it creates are also a driving force for new ideas and new development opportunities.

Evaluating Thanh’s idea of an "isolated homestay against Covid", Phan Thi Ngan, lecturer at the Faculty of Tourism and Vietnam Studies at Nguyen Tat Thanh University in Ho Chi Minh City, said this is a model with opportunities for development in areas less affected by the epidemic.

According to her, isolated accommodation in the suburbs, with large space and no restrictions on movement help people relieve stress amid the prolonged epidemic.

However, business owners will immediately suffer if that area becomes a high-risk Covid area or local officials impose strong travel restrictions and ban large gatherings to prevent the virus from spreading.

Quach Duy Thinh prepares dining table for guests at one of his homestays in Ben Tre Province, February 2021. Photo courtesy of Thinh

Quach Duy Thinh sets up dining table for guests at one of his homestays in Ben Tre Province, February 2021. Photo courtesy of Thinh

What Ngan feared happened to Quach Duy Thinh, a 29-year-old from southern Ben Tre Province. His two family homestays have been closed for the past four months because of the fourth Covid wave that hit Vietnam late April.

Before September 2020, Thinh was the deputy director of a resort, but the pandemic caused him to lose his job and return home empty-handed. Although he applied for a job at an English center, he decided to quit since he misses serving customers and wanted to run a business.

Thinh realized that the demand for travel during the epidemic season has changed. The fear of the epidemic makes people visit rural areas. He decided to remodel and transform his house into a homestay with the desire to attract guests who seeks to experience rural life in the countryside.

So he borrowed VND100 million and started implementing the idea. He kept the structure of the house intact, tweaking the details to harmonize with the surrounding landscape. At the end of last year, a small homestay in hamlet 1A, Thach Dong Phu Commune of Giong Trom District officially welcomed guests.

In order to comply with epidemic prevention regulations, Thinh only accepts a maximum of six guests at a time.

The front view of one of Thinhs homestays in Ben Tre in January 2021. Photo courtesy of Thinh

The front view of one of Thinh's homestays in Ben Tre, January 2021. Photo courtesy of Thinh

"At the homestay, visitors could explore the village's famous Son Doc Puff Pastry facility, the local church, and try to learn how to make Ben Tre's staple dishes themselves," Thinh stated.

"Guests can also enjoy a rustic country meal with grilled eggplant with onion fat, boiled crayfish and salted pomelo leaf chicken."

In May of this year, he built another homestay, but before he could open the doors to welcome guests, the epidemic broke out.

"I have six customers that booked my homestays and paid up front already. Also, dozens of people call me every day to book in advance but I don't dare accept," he said.

During the epidemic, he is learning how to bake cakes, preparing more small gifts for customers, waiting for the tourism sector to reopen.

"Starting a business during the epidemic is not crazy. People think it is not a smart move. But I don't think so," Thinh affirmed.

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