Covid-19 slump forces Saigon hotels to down shutters

By Nguyen Nam   April 4, 2020 | 08:23 pm PT
Covid-19 slump forces Saigon hotels to down shutters
All hotels and restaurants in Bui Vien backpacker street in downtown Saigon are closed, March 2020. Photo by VnExpres/Nguyen Ngoc Thien.
With no bookings amidst Covid-19 fears and travel restrictions, many hotels in Ho Chi Minh City have closed and asked staff to take unpaid leave.

Dennis, a foreign tourist who’d rented a hotel room on Pham Ngu Lao Street in District 1, was forced to move out and rent an apartment in District 3 on March 30 after the hotel decided to close down. He was the only guest in the hotel with nearly 20 rooms in the city's busiest backpacker precinct.

Hotels in and around Bui Vien Street, the city’s most famous hangout for both locals and foreigners, have been virtually empty since mid-March, forcing many hotel owners to stop operating and keep just a security guard on duty. They also turn off all lights at night to reduce costs. In general, hotels in the heart of downtown Saigon, District 1, are also turning dark at nights.

The security guard of a three-star hotel on Bui Thi Xuan Street in District 1 said: "The hotel has been closed for a few days now. All staff are required to take a temporary break."

International visitors in HCMC in the first quarter of 2020 reached about 1.3 million, down 42 percent year-on-year, according to the city Department of Tourism.

Some owners of three-to-five-star hotels said the occupancy rate in March was only about five to 10 percent. The following months would be worse, they said.

The deputy general manager of a Saigon hotel who wanted to remain anonymous said that his company's hotels of four to five star classification had very few foreigners who’d rented rooms for longer terms. They work for international companies in Vietnam and were not tourists.

"We combine all guests into one hotel to serve them easily and conveniently at the moment. Other hotels have stopped receiving guests and focused on personnel training and renovation," he added.

Earlier, city authorities ordered operators of lodging facilities such as homestays and Airbnb properties and other short-term rentals to temporarily suspend their businesses for 15 days, starting from April 1 in line with the nationwide social distancing campaign. 

The metropolis also closed all bars, karaoke parlors, discos, beer clubs, massage parlors, movie theaters and internet cafes from March 15; and shut down all tourist attractions from March 28 following a directive issued by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

The premier required all "non-essential" businesses around the country to remain closed until April 15 as it entered what he said was a critical two-week stage in its Covid-19 fight.

The Prime Minister launched a 15-day nationwide social distancing campaign on April 1, banning gatherings of more than two people and asking people not to leave their homes.

Foreigners leave an alley on Bui Vien Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City on March 15, 2020 after a Latvian tourist staying here tested positive with the novel coronavirus. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Foreigners leave an alley on Bui Vien Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City on March 15, 2020 after a Latvian tourist staying here tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused the tourism industry to freeze. In March alone, the number of foreign tourists to Vietnam was 449,000, down 63.8 percent from the previous month and 68.1 percent from a year ago.

According to the General Statistics Office (GSO), Vietnam welcomed nearly 3.7 million international tourists in the first quarter, down 18.1 percent year-on-year, as the government suspended entry for all foreign nationals starting March 22, including those of Vietnamese origin and family members with visa waivers, and stopped all international flights from March 25 in an unprecedented response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Vietnam has recorded 240 Covid-19 cases so far, of whom 90 have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Globally, the pandemic has claimed more than 64,000 lives as it spread to 205 countries and territories.

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