2020 a devastating year for Vietnam's tourism

By Nguyen Quy   December 21, 2020 | 08:05 pm PT
2020 a devastating year for Vietnam's tourism
A beach in Da Nang is left deserted in July 2020 during the second wave of Covid-19 outbreak. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.
For Vietnam's tourism industry, 2020 was a nightmarish year due to the Covid-19 crisis and historic flooding.

Vietnam's tally of foreign tourists reached an all-time high of 18 million in 2019 while the tourism industry earned VND720 trillion ($30.8 billion). For 2020, the government had targeted welcoming 20 million foreign visitors, with an expected industry revenue of $35 billion.

The country saw around two million foreign visitors in January, a 32.8 percent rise year-on-year before the expectations were dashed as Covid-19 hit Vietnam on January 23.

From late January, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam suspended all flights to and from coronavirus-hit areas in China and halted issuing visas for visitors from these localities. China was Vietnam’s biggest feeder tourism market with nearly 4.8 million arrivals in 2019.

The government in late February also canceled many flights to South Korea, the country's second largest tourist market and suspended visa-free travel for South Koreans to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

The situation got worse in March as many Vietnamese nationals returning from the U.S. and Europe, along with foreigners arriving from the same destinations were infected with the virus. This prompted authorities to impose a three-week social distancing campaign on April 1 and suspend all international flights.

All popular tourist destinations and other entertainment facilities in the country, including bars and karaoke parlors were closed, with people required to stay home and limit gathering in large crowds.

The Independence Palace in downtown Saigon is left deserted in April 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.

Independence Palace in downtown Saigon stands desolate in April 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.

In late April, tourist hotspots were allowed to reopen though the country remained closed to foreign arrivals. With tight restrictions on international travel, the industry switched to boosting domestic tourism.

Thanks to efficient Covid-19 control, Vietnam saw top tourist hotspots jammed with throngs of local tourists over weekends.

However, the industry ground to a halt again as Da Nang recorded the first local case of infection on July 25 to end the country’s 99-day streak without community transmission.

Many localities shut their tourist attractions and deployed anti-pandemic measures to curb the spread of domestic infections. Popular Da Nang, home to many famous beaches, along with Quang Nam, well known for the UNESCO heritage site Hoi An, subsequently became the country's largest coronavirus hotspots, both put under lockdown for more than a month.

Tourism revenues in August fell 61.8 percent over the previous month to VND974 billion ($42.4 million) as the Covid-19 resurgence slashed travel demand.

Thanks to strict quarantine and tracking measures, Vietnam quickly contained the second Covid-19 outbreak, allowing economic and domestic tourism activities to basically return to normal.

But historic flooding in central Vietnam again put the brakes on the tourism industry. Between early October and mid-November, the central region and parts of the Central Highlands were hit by a succession of storms that brought torrential rains, resulting in severe flooding and landslides.

At least 192 people were killed and 57 left missing, with losses amounting to VND30 trillion ($1.3 billion) in what the government claimed to be "the worst [damage] in decades."

Popular tourist hotspots in central Vietnam such as Hue, Hoi An and Quang Binh Province's Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park were submerged under floodwater and closed to tourists.

Tourists row their boats near Hoi An Market at the intersection of Tran Phu and Tran Quy Cap streets on October 12 following deluge. Photo by VnExpress.

Tourists travel by boat near Hoi An Market at the intersection of Tran Phu and Tran Quy Cap streets on October 12 following a deluge. Photo by VnExpress/Do Nhat Vu.

Vietnam could lose $23 billion in tourism revenue this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, or about 75 percent of last year’s industry revenue, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien told the National Assembly last month.

Due to border closure and flight suspension, Vietnam welcomed 3.8 million visitors in the January-November period, a year-on-year decrease of 76.6 percent while total revenue from tourism is estimated at VND16.6 trillion ($722 million), down 59 percent from the previous year.

So far, Vietnam has gone over three weeks without community transmissions following a mini outbreak involving four locally-transmitted cases in HCMC, triggered by a Vietnam Airlines flight attendant who had violated quarantine rules.

Thanks to strict quarantine and contact tracing measures, Vietnam has managed to keep Covid-19 at bay with only 1,413 infections and 35 deaths.

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