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In reviving tourism post-Covid, Vietnam faces familiar hurdles

March 2, 2022 | 07:32 pm PT
Dang Manh Phuoc Businessman
In another two weeks Vietnam will fully reopen to tourists. It will be a major milestone, coming two years after the coronavirus stopped all international travel.

It means businesses will be able to receive tourists without any restrictions. We have been waiting too long for this.

But will it be all that easy? Is there something we are missing?

Reopening to international tourism means Vietnam will compete with regional rivals who began the task of reviving their tourism industry months ago. Without an initial boost from outstanding coronavirus management – our current efforts do not match our stellar efforts in the past – we need to face the competition with what we have right now.

Looking at how Thailand geared up to jump start its tourism industry post-Covid, I cannot but worry for Vietnam.

Unlike us, Thailand began to receive foreign tourists all the way back in July 2021 under its Phuket Sandbox program.

Despite the coronavirus still being a threat, Thailand has gained valuable lessons on how to revive the industry.

Within a span of two months over 28,000 tourists visited Phuket alone, bringing with them at least US$48 million.

The country then quickly replicated the model in other regions and gradually revived tourism starting in February through the Test&Go program.

It also shifted its focus to high-end tourists and even geared long-term residency programs toward those with high incomes, retired people and foreign experts. This was Thailand's game plan to catch up with a post-Covid world.

Vietnam meanwhile allowed its first international tourists to visit Phu Quoc Island in November 2021 before expanding to Khanh Hoa and Quang Nam provinces. By January however we had only received around 8,900 visitors.

Vietnam used to be a prime tourist destination and was even hailed as a "miracle" in the 2016-19 period.

We had a record 18 million foreign visitors in 2019 and 85 million domestic tourists, with the industry raking in around VND720 trillion ($31.5 billion). Those numbers put us among the 10 fastest growing tourism markets in the world.

But despite all that there were still things that needed to be fixed: like our overdependence on a small number of markets, low-quality personnel and ineffective marketing.

We know what needs to be done, but the demand to bounce back quickly leaves us little room to resolve these problems immediately.

I hope the two-year break served our tourism industry well, allowing us to prepare for its growth and redesign models and systems to help compete better in the new market.

The numerous conferences and meetings I have attended in the last two years also touched on the subject of reviving tourism, but they all stopped at conversations and drafts, and none managed to address the problems.

We have two weeks left until the reopening, but will we be ready? Especially when there are still so many variables and so many things left to be done.

There is only one way to find out.

*Dang Manh Phuoc is a Vietnamese businessman. The opinions expressed are his own.

 
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