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Ha Long, Nha Trang struggle in absence of Chinese, Russian tourists

By Le Tan, Bui Toan   September 15, 2022 | 12:03 am PT
Hotel and restaurant owners in Nha Trang and Ha Long, which heavily rely on Chinese and Russian visitors, are trying to survive in their absence.

An agarwood store near Tuan Chau tourist area in Ha Long, home to the eponymous world-famous bay, used to be very crowded with Chinese tourists before the pandemic. But it has been closed for a while.

Some other stores face a similar fate.

Though Vietnam reopened international tourism mid-March, Chinese visitors have not yet been able to go abroad as China persists with its zero-Covid policy, including lockdown measures and strict entry restrictions.

A store specializing in selling agarwood products for Chinese tourists in Ha Long Town is now closed. Photo by Le Tan

A store specializing in selling agarwood products for Chinese tourists in Ha Long Town is closed in late August, 2022. Photo by Le Tan

Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh, which borders China, has long been a favorite destination among Chinese visitors.

Without Chinese tourists, local cruise operators have been suffering heavy damage.

"Before Covid-19, 70% of my customers were Chinese and we had four to five trips a day," said Pham Tham, operator of the Tung Duong tourist boat service.

"However, there is now only a boat trip carrying domestic tourists on normal days and boats remain idle for the rest of time," Tham said.

Van Cuong, who owns two tourist boats in Ha Long, said from September until the year-end used to be the busy international tourism season in Ha Long but that business is sluggish.

In 2019, Ha Long welcomed 2.9 million international visitors and 60% of them were from China.

More than a thousand kilometers south of Ha Long, Nha Trang beach town has also been heavily affected by the shortage of both Chinese and Russian tourists.

The escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war since March has prompted countries to close their airspace and suspend international flights. Due to travel restrictions, there are almost no Russian tourists in Nha Trang at this time.

Some restaurants and hotels in downtown Nha Trang have shut down or simply stand deserted.

According to a survey by VnExpress, downtown rents before the pandemic hit up to hundreds of millions per month (VND1 million equivalent to $43).

Though the rents have reduced by more than 60%, there are no tenants and many restaurants and hotels are deserted.

Foreign tourists walk past the deserted backpacker area in Nha Trang, September 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Toan

Foreign tourists walk past the deserted backpacker area in Nha Trang. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Toan

In 2019, Nha Trang received more than 3.5 million international visitors, mainly from China and Russia.

At the time, Cam Ranh International Airport welcomed more than 30 flights from China, and six charter flights from Russia daily.

Hoai, owner of a restaurant in Nha Trang, said he had cleaned up his restaurant last summer in hopes of welcoming back tourists during the peak summer season.

However, business was not as good as expected and he had to close the restaurant to cut costs.

Vietnam has allowed quarantine-free entry and resumed its pre-pandemic visa exemption policy for 24 tourism markets from mid-March with a maximum stay of 15-30 days.

So far this year, the country has received 1.44 million foreign tourists, only 28% of the full-year target of five million.

Switching markets

Restaurant and hotel owners in Nha Trang and Ha Long have been waiting in desperation for visitors from China and Russia and some have been pushed to the verge of bankruptcy.

"China is still closing its border due to Covid-19 and we don't know when tourism activities between the two countries will return to normal," Cuong said.

"We were really stressed as the domestic tourism season passed and all boats remained idle," said Cuong.

Nguyen Thi Le Thanh, director of the Khanh Hoa Department of Tourism, said India is one of the most potential tourism markets post pandemic and the new source of Indian visitors could be a temporary solution amid the absence of Chinese and Russian tourists.

But Thanh said it would need more time and better preparation to tap the Indian market effectively.

Ha Long is also seeking ways to diversify tourism markets with an eye on India.

Last month, over 200 Indian tourists visited Ha Long Bay and other attractions in Quang Ninh.

 
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