Banking on customers' sympathy is no way to revive tourism businesses

By Pham Vu Tung   July 6, 2020 | 04:27 pm PT
For the tourism sector to recover, businesses cannot depend just on promotions but need appealing programs to attract customers back.
Pham Vu Tung

Pham Vu Tung

After weeks of staying in to avoid the new coronavirus, my family finally headed back to the road to travel, but it did not turn out as we had hoped for.

Travel companies, hotels and resorts, transport firms, and cities and provinces are running promotion campaigns targeting domestic travelers, and we chose a tour of central Vietnam.

But the promotional hotel prices were only for weekdays, and weekend rates were much higher. Similarly, the listed airfares were only for flights late at night or very early in the morning.

So staying at a resort over the weekend and flying out in the morning meant the prices were not attractive.

But it turned out that we could not get rooms for weekends at our favorite resort after all since it was full, and we had to go during weekdays.

On departure day we were all excited as we left home early in the morning for Noi Bai International Airport.

There was a sea of people all the way from the roads and airport lobby to check-in counters. I figured the promotion programs were doing their job.

The airlines seemed overwhelmed by the crowds. They did not have enough check-in counters or staff to man them, and so, despite having checked in online, we ended up check in our luggage just before the flight’s departure.

We had used the resort several times before and always been satisfied with the service. But this time there were too many guests, and the staff were struggling to cope.

The bell did not work in our room and the curtain was torn. Worse, two people in my family were electrocuted in the lawn next to the pool due to a leak from a lighting system wire. Luckily, it was not serious, and the resort responded quickly.

We checked out on Friday afternoon as dozens of buses disgorged hundreds of people coming for the weekend. As I saw that scene, I could not help worry for them, and truly hoped they would get good service and enjoy their stay.

The pandemic has hit the tourism sector really hard, and while many countries are still propagating social distancing or having partial lockdowns, Vietnam has been lucky enough to bring it under control with no community transmission for more than 80 days now.

As an outcome, Vietnam's tourism sector has had the chance to recover much sooner than most others’. But the opportunity has not been used well. Many tourism and transport companies have failed to get back on track in time to catch up with the tourism boom, and are thus not offering the quality of service customers expect.

We visited the most prominent ancient town in the central region. We have been there many times but remain attracted to it. The recent visit was however a disappointment since most stores, souvenir shops, coffee shops, and houses in the typical and world-famous local style were closed due to the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. The town looked like it had lost all its vital signs.

It was a vivid example of how the pandemic had ravaged the tourism sector.

From what I could see, people were eager and happy to be back on the tourist circuit, but a ghost town was definitely not what they had hoped for.

After leaving the town, we traveled to a big city in the central region and stayed at a resort managed by a world-renowned group. The room was good and there was nothing to complain about until we realized that a number of services had been scrapped, though only temporarily.

Only one of the five restaurants was open, many regular entertainment options were unavailable, the plants there had withered because workers had been laid off and there was no one to water them, the beach was pitch dark at night because there were no lights, and the bathroom did not have a razor and had too little toothpaste.

The resort did offer us a discount, but not enough to make up for our disappointment. I know some people might say what we got was acceptable for the price we paid, but in all commercial activity transparency must be the top priority.

If the resort chooses to keep just one of its restaurants open and suspend most amusement activities, it has to make that clear on its website or social media page. Instead it had uploaded a video showing all its attractions as if things were normal along with reasonable prices. That, for me, is no different from crying wine and selling vinegar.

A staff cleans the front yard of a hotel in Da Nang City in central Vietnam as the hotel is reopened to receive customers after a period of social distancing, May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

A staff cleans the front yard of a hotel in Da Nang City in central Vietnam as the hotel is reopened to receive customers after a period of social distancing in late April 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Our last destination was a hotel on a peninsula where we only went for lunch, and things there were completely different.

Despite offering discounts, it had not shut down any of its extra facilities, it was well staffed from the gate to the lobby, at the pool, and in each restaurant. I noticed that it was meticulously landscaped instead of looking abandoned like the previous one.

The staff told me the occupation rate at the time was only 92 percent, but the hotel had decided to stop accepting more bookings to make sure it could serve its guests properly.

Though we had gone just to eat, we were allowed to use all the outdoor facilities it had.

A friend of mine, an expert in customer experiences, once told me that customers are not loyal to any brand, but only to what they experience. Thus if a destination is not attractive and the service quality is bad, they will spread the news around, warning people to stay away.

Tourism and service firms should not think that as long as people see a discount, they will take it and ignore other factors.

Some businesses have done everything they can to cut costs, including not offering certain facilities customers normally expect, and are taking in large numbers of customers even if it means they cannot serve them well.

These will result in customers having a bad experience, which will damage the business’ brand. When the pandemic ends, customers will begin to look at these brands as low-end even if they used to be further up the ladder.

The bottom line is that businesses have to think of ways to stop themselves from drowning, but should remember that customers pay attention and their patience has limits.

*Pham Vu Tung is a marketing expert. The opinions expressed are his own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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