February figures display coronavirus impacts on Vietnam tourism

By Nguyen Nam, Hoang Phong   March 2, 2020 | 05:15 am PT
February figures display coronavirus impacts on Vietnam tourism
The area in front of HCMC's Central Post Office in early February was bare, devoid of visitors taking photos on coronavirus concerns. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.
Vietnam’s tourism industry is suffering the expected impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak, with foreign arrivals plummeting in February.

1.24 million foreign tourists visiting the country in February, down 38 percent against the previous month and 21.8 percent year-on-year, clearly an impact of the epidemic that has spread to 64 countries and territories and killed more than 3,000 people.

The number of Chinese tourists, the biggest feeder market for Vietnamese tourism, in February was 194,000, down 62 percent from a year ago. 

Vietnam suspended all flights to and from China starting February 1. The Vietnamese government later allowed resumption of services to and from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Arrivals from China in January had increased 72.6 percent year-on-year to 644,700, the highest growth among foreigners, accounting for one-third of total foreign tourists.

Around 322,000 South Koreans came to Vietnam last month, down 16 percent from a year ago. The number of tourists from this market is expected to decrease dramatically in the coming months, since the South Korean government has declared a red alert, its highest level of alarm, over the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Vietnamese government has decided to cancel many flights from Vietnam to South Korea and suspended visa-free travel for South Koreans amidst "complicated" developments of the epidemic.

Overall, the number of foreign tourists to Vietnam during the first two months of this year reached 3.2 million, up 4.8 percent year-on-year, the slowest growth for the two-month period in the past five years.

Arrivals from Europe reached 502,000, up 8.8 percent from a year ago. The number of Russians visiting the country went up 17.7 percent to 172,000.

Nguyen Ngoc Toan, director of the Images Travel Company that specializes in welcoming European visitors to Vietnam, said the current number of European tourists were those who had bought tours last year, before the epidemic broke out.

"The number of European visitors booking new tours is declining," he said.

Vo Anh Tai, deputy general director of leading travel company Saigontourist, said hotels in the system still have a certain number of European tourists because it is the peak season for Westerners, extending to the end of April.

"Most tours booked by European tourists last year have not been cancelled. However, there are no new contracts," Tai said.

Visa exemption for all visitors from Western and Northern Europe and visa fees exemption for all international visitors in 2020 are among measures proposed by the Vietnam Tourism Associationto help the country’s tourism industry regain lost ground.

The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) has estimated that the coronavirus epidemic could cost the country $5.9- $7.7 billion in first-quarter tourism revenues, or about 25 percent of the industry's revenue last year.

The coronavirus outbreak has struck at a time Vietnam was enjoying a tourism boom, with visitor numbers last year growing 16.2 percent year-on-year to a record high of 18 million. The United Nations World Tourism Organization has placed Vietnam seventh among world’s 10 fastest-growing tourist destinations.

The country has set a target of welcoming 20.5 million international visitors and 90 million domestic travelers this year, generating VND830 trillion ($35.6 billion) in tourism revenues, according to VNAT.

Vietnam has not detected any new infection for 18 days after all 16 Covid-19 patients detected so far were discharged from hospitals.

Meanwhile, the global death toll has topped 3,000 and the novel coronavirus has spread to 68 countries and territories. Most of the deaths, more than 2,900, have occurred in China, followed by Iran with 54, Italy with 41 and South Korea with 26. The U.S. has reported two deaths.

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