Fresh Covid-19 outbreak renews Da Nang travel agent blues

By Phuong Anh   July 28, 2020 | 11:52 pm PT
Fresh Covid-19 outbreak renews Da Nang travel agent blues
Tourists leave My Khe Beach in Da Nang City on July 25, 2020. Starting July 28, no beach goers are allowed after the city has entered a semi-lockdown. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.
A day before July 25, Nguyen Van Thoai Street was bustling with restaurants, cafés, and tea shops serving customers in Vietnam's tourism hotspot Da Nang.

The scene was abuzz with noise until late at night.

Le Nhung, owner of a local homestay in Da Nang, found herself weighed down by grief as she drove along the street at 9 a.m Sunday, now desolate following the confirmation of two cases of Covid-19 community transmission in the city. The first case was confirmed on Saturday morning, ending the country's 99-day streak without local infections.

The silence blanketing the street reminded her of April when Vietnam implemented its nationwide social distancing campaign.

Now, tourism suspension has ensued across the city, with social distancing measures effective starting Tuesday. "No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Many locals depend on tourists to survive," Nhung, 29, told VnExpress.

After Vietnam lifted its social distancing campaign in late April, business activities started to pick up. Domestic tourism proved extremely robust in July as the summer holiday peaked. Nhung’s homestay enjoyed steady business for about a month until July 25, when patrons started canceling their bookings.

She has provided all quests a 100 percent refund. "Many families save up the whole year to take their children and parents on a trip. Every day they look forward to embarking on the journey. And then everything changes," she said with a sigh.

Thuy Anh, 30, concurs. The Da Nang hotel manager felt cooped up at home in April and could not wait until she could go back to work.

When she did, Thuy Anh hoped for a busy season to make up for previous losses. But that hope died young as she is now forced to stay at home.

Thao My, employed by a local travel agency, said she read a lot of tourist comments stating "Da Nang is screwed", which frustrates her to no end.

"We understand their anxiety. Everyone is afraid of the disease. But the city government is doing its best to control the situation. Instead of saying ‘screwed,’ why not be a little more positive?"

Ngoc Thu, 26, a travel agent, said the situation is very confusing. She has received hundreds of calls requesting refunds for air tickets, hotels, tours, and site visits in the last few days. Besides, she coordinates with local partners to help address customer requests.

Thu said her company aims to support customers as best as they can, partly dependent on the decisions of their partners. "Some of our partners do not offer refunds and only the option of rescheduling," Thu said, referring to booked tours.

"If canceled, a customer would get nothing, so many are accusing us of committing fraud. I'm very sad, I don't know how to explain it. Hopefully everyone understands each business follows its own policy, we cannot intervene," she said.

Flights to Da Nang are suspended from July 28. Several localities around the country require those coming from the city to report to authorities and test for Covid-19. All passenger trains, buses and shipping services to and from Da Nang have also been halted.

Da Nang residents are required to stay home and only venture out for emergencies, buying food and medicine or working in factories, production facilities and businesses related to "essential" goods and services. "Non-essential" businesses like beauty salons, massage and karaoke parlors and bars are closed.

Da Nang with a population of 1.1 million has reported 26 cases in the past five days. Its neighbor Quang Nam Province has recorded three patients and the nearby province of Quang Ngai one case, all linked to Da Nang.

Like many tourism staff in Da Nang, Thuy Anh is now dreaming the same dream she had in March and April when the country first wrestled with the Covid-19 outbreak: back to the normal, back to work.

"I crave going back to work. That's my dream," she said.

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