Vietnam’s top tourist hotspots become deserted amid new coronavirus epidemic

By Tam Linh, Lan Huong, Hoang Tao   February 3, 2020 | 11:36 pm PT
Vietnam’s top tourist hotspots become deserted amid new coronavirus epidemic
Tourists visit My Khe Beach in Da Nang City on February 1, 2020. Photo courtesy of Desiree Cottura.
Many popular tourist destinations, which are always favorite destinations of Chinese tourists, were not crowded as usual amid fears for the nCoV outbreak.

January and February are always the peak travel season of the year, which coincides with Tet, or the Lunar New Year holiday, Vietnam’s biggest and most important festival.

But the UNESCO heritage site Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam and beach resort localities Nha Trang and Da Nang in central Vietnam were left deserted as Vietnam suspended all flights to and from China and stopped receiving Chinese tourists as well as suspended all spring festivals amid the fast-spreading epidemic.

On Sunday morning, Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province, famous for overnight cruises, had nice weather, but much less tourists, especially in Tuan Chau Wharf. Le Thanh, a tourist, said that there are only a few groups of tourists, including Vietnamese, South Korean and European.

"Tuan Chau Wharf where all boat trips to the bay begin is especially deserted, with only a few groups of tourists walking along the road to the dock in the morning, rather than crowded, queuing in long lines like last year I went," he said.

Pham Dinh Huynh, deputy head of Ha Long Bay management board, said the number of visitors to the bay has witnessed a dramatic decrease. "On Sunday, Ha Long welcomed 4,300 visitors, including 650 Vietnamese and the rest being European visitors. Before last Friday, the bay welcome about 6,000 - 8,000 visitors a day."

Some local boat owners said every year after Tet visitors to Ha Long Bay are mainly from China. Therefore, when the government suspended entry and exit procedures at Mong Cai border gate last Friday to prevent the coronavirus epidemic, the number of tourists showed clear signs of slowing down.

After local authorities stopped all activities to bring Chinese tourists to Khanh Hoa Province since last Tuesday, resort town Nha Trang, one of the country’s most visited destinations by Chinese tourists, is now mainly occupied by Russian, South Korean and Vietnamese visitors.

Some eateries in Nha Trang are still closed after Tet amid new coronavirus outbreak that deters Chinese tourists from visiting the town. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Some eateries in Nha Trang are still closed after Tet amid new coronavirus outbreak that deters Chinese tourists from visiting the town. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Phan Anh, a Hanoian, who visited Nha Trang during Tet with his family, said that Nha Trang became deserted and quiet and almost all tourists wore face masks to engage in outdoor activities.

Anh Tuyet, the owner of Tuyet’s hotel on Nguyen Thi Dinh Street, said the number of booking rooms at her hotel reduced by 50 percent year-on-year.

Popular tourist attractions in Nha Trang, which are always visited by Chinese tourists such as the Ponagar Tower and Hon Chong tourist area, were no longer crowded as before.

Nguyen Tan Dung, deputy director of Khanh Hoa Relics Conservation Center, said these attractions always received about 11,000 visitors a day on average. In the last five days, the number of visitors were only 3,000 and it is expected to decrease every day. Many souvenir shops and eateries were closed.

Nha Trang, well known for its beaches and scuba diving, is a popular destination among Chinese nationals. It helped draw 2.4 million visitors to Khanh Hoa last year, a major share of them Chinese arrivals.

Khanh Hoa is one of three localities in Vietnam to have declared a coronavirus epidemic. Thanh Hoa in the central region and Vinh Phuc in the north are the other two provinces.

5,361 Chinese nationals including 4,800 tourists are stuck in Khanh Hoa after all flights to China were suspended from February 1 amidst the nCoV epidemic.

In Da Nang City, major roads and tourist attractions were left deserted. The Da Nang Cathedral on Tran Phu Street, which draws thousands of foreign tourists (mostly Chinese and Korean) every day, and many five-star hotels have stopped receiving Chinese tourists and those from epidemic-stricken areas.

Beating Asian metropolises like Tokyo, Seoul and Bangkok, Da Nang is the most popular 2020 travel destination, Google data shows.

The death toll from the epidemic has reached 426, with 425 dying in China and one in the Philippines. Aside from mainland China and Vietnam, the virus has spread to Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, the U.S., South Korea, France, Germany, Canada, the UAE, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, the U.K., Russia, Finland, Nepal, Sweden, and Spain.

Vietnam's government declared the nCoV an epidemic Saturday. Vietnam confirmed Tuesday morning its ninth nCoV infection case, a man who was among a group of eight workers returning from work training in Wuhan on January 17.

Other confirmed cases in Vietnam are a Vietnamese-American who transited in Wuhan en route and a hotel receptionist who caught the coronavirus infection from the Chinese father-son duo.

Li Zichao, the Chinese son, was discharged Tuesday morning. He is the second nCoV infection patient to be discharged from hospital. The first one is Vietnamese woman Nguyen Thu Trang, 25, a native of central Thanh Hoa Province.

The government has deployed various measures to combat the virus, including halting all flights to coronavirus-hit areas in China, suspending visas for visitors from those regions, quarantining Chinese workers returning to Vietnam after the Lunar New Year holiday and suspending spring festivities, while temporarily closing schools.

Vietnam is in the midst of a tourism boom, with an all-time high of 18 million in 2019, up 16.2 percent year-on-year. With its visa waivers, the government expects 20.5 million visitors in 2020 and revenues of $35 billion, equivalent to 10 percent of GDP.

The country welcomed around two million foreign visitors in January, a 32.8 percent increase, official data showed. Nearly 77 percent were from Asian countries.

January saw tourists from China to Vietnam post record high growth, increasing 72.6 percent from a year ago to 644,700, the highest growth and accounting for one third of total foreign tourists during the first month of the new year, according to General Statistics Office.

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