Travel industry top casualty as coronavirus continues to stalk Vietnam

By Nguyen Nam   March 15, 2020 | 11:06 pm PT
Travel industry top casualty as coronavirus continues to stalk Vietnam
Bui Vien pedestrian street in downtown Saigon looks much more deserted than usual on March 14, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
Travel companies, hit hard by the fallout of Covid-19, are now facing the threat of closure with the shutting of popular tourist attractions.

"If the Covid-19 epidemic lasts for a few more months, we will temporarily stop operations because there is not enough money to keep going," said Nguyen Ba Thao, director of Bach Tung Viet travel company, which takes guests to Con Dao Island.

Joining the growing list of tourism hotspots banning visitors as the number of coronavirus cases surge in the country, authorities in the Con Dao archipelago last Tuesday stopped allowing in visitors until further notice.

Vietnam Airlines normally has 12 flights a week to Con Dao, once notorious for the incarceration and torture of political prisoners by the French and Americans, and there are three high-speed boats with 1,800 seats daily.

But the decision to close the island means all tours have now been canceled.

Saigon Luxury Travel Company has suspended all domestic tours. Le Nem, its director, said Vietnamese are not buying tours, and if a foreigner does the company has to consider if they are coming from an epidemic area. "Therefore, we decided to stop. The staff will be ready to serve tourists when the epidemic is over."

Vietnam has more than 2,000 travel companies, most of them small or medium-sized and evidently the most vulnerable to the impacts of the epidemic.

Danh Viet Tourism Company is another business struggling to remain open. Nearly 50 percent of its workforce has had to quit, and the remaining people only work 50 percent of the time, mainly dealing with the backlog of work.

Hoang Bich Hang, its director, said: "We mainly serve groups of tourists. At this time, when tourist destinations are closing and the government is suspending visa waivers for many countries, the company’s situation is much worse than before."  

On Sunday the government banned the entry of visitors coming from or transiting in the U.K. and Schengen area. The Schengen area comprises 26 European countries.

Vietnam had earlier suspended visa waivers for the citizens of nine European countries – Italy, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Spain, and the U.K - and South Korea.

According to tourism companies, between January and March is the peak season for tourism, both domestic and inbound, but due to the Covid-19 epidemic and closure of many popular tourist destinations, business has come almost to a standstill.

Nguyen Ngoc Toan, director of Images Travel Company, said the company has several groups of inbound tourists. Three groups with around 36 people were scheduled to travel along the Mekong River from Chau Doc Town to Cambodia. But on March 13 Cambodia announced a ban on visitors coming by waterway, and so Images had to change the schedule and send them by road.

After this trip, it would "temporarily stop serving customers" and only handle office work, Toan said, adding he has no idea when it would resume tourism work.

Even large tourism companies with thousands of employees have decided to close offices in many places and slash staff salaries.

A spokesperson for real estate giant Sun Group said amusement services account for 70 percent of its revenues, and in the first two months of the year the number of ticket-paying visitors decreased by two million, and this number is likely to rise to seven million in the first half.

The company expects to lose VND2 trillion ($86 million) worth of revenues from this segment alone. The number of guests at its resorts and hotels is down by 10-20 percent.

A Private Economic Development Research Board (IV Board) survey of over 1,200 firms in the country, released last week, said the sector hardest hit by the Covid-19 epidemic was tourism, followed by education, textiles, footwear and wood production.

If the Covid-19 epidemic lasts for over six months, 74 percent of firms in Vietnam would go bankrupt as revenues fail to cover operational expenses, according to the IV Board, which is managed by the Government’s Advisory Council for Administrative Procedure Reform.

The novel coronavirus has slashed $7 billion off Vietnam’s tourism revenue for January-February while the number of hotel guests across the country during the first two months of this year decreased by 60-70 percent, Government Office Chief Mai Tien Dung told a meeting last week.

Vietnam suspended all flights to and from China starting February 1. The government later allowed resumption of services to and from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. It has also canceled many flights from Vietnam to South Korea and suspended visa-free travel for South Koreans amidst "complicated" developments of the Covid-19 epidemic.

The country has recorded 41 Covid-19 cases since March 6 after going 22 days without a new infection.

The Covid-19 outbreak has thus far spread to 151 countries and territories, with the death toll climbing to over 5,800.

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