Tourism workers lose hope for summer travel season amid Covid

By Nguyen Quy   May 20, 2021 | 03:30 pm GMT+7
The latest Covid-19 outbreak in Vietnam has dented tourism workers' hopes for the peak summer travel season.

It's 5 p.m. and Nguyen Trung Hung, a driver of an open top double-decker bus in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) sits on a street corner near the iconic Central Post Office in District 1, surfing his smartphone while awaiting passengers.

"My bus was parked for almost half an hour but only one passenger got on," the 29-year-old man said.

Before the new outbreak in the country late last month, he carried from 10 to 15 passengers per trip but now only a few, and often none.

"I hoped for an increase in passenger numbers during the peak summer season, but all hopes have been dashed by the ongoing outbreak," Hung said.

He now fears the bus company may halt operation to cut losses, putting him out of work.

"It's not easy to find a new job these days and I am worried about my family of four," he said.

Hung is among million of Vietnamese tourism workers whose hopes have been badly dented by plunging travel demand amid the resurgence of a coronavirus wave caused by new virus strains in the country.

After over a month without new community transmissions, different clusters emerged in various localities starting April 27, prompting the government to suspend tourism festivals, ban large crowds and shut down popular tourist attractions.

A double-decker bus stands near the Central Post Office in downtown HCMC, waiting for customers, May 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Quy.

A double-decker bus stands near the Central Post Office in downtown HCMC, waiting for customers, May 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Quy.

Ho Phuong Duy, a tour guide at a HCMC-based travel company, said he now works as a GrabBike driver at night to earn more money to cover his daily expenses while in the daytime he only visits the office for paper work since all domestic tours for the peak summer months have been canceled.

Specializing in outbound tours, Duy was out of a job for nearly eight months last year as Vietnam suspended all international flights in March 2020 and many countries around the world closed their borders to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Duy returned to work last December in charge of domestic tours but the Covid-19 outbreak during the recent Tet holiday also caused him a loss of income.

He has been hoping to make some money from the summer travel season but the new wave upended his life again.

"The Covid-19 pandemic looks like a nightmare to me. After nearly eight months of unemployment, I have survived in HCMC thanks to my parents' support," the 32-year-old man said.

"Once a tour guide traveling to many countries around the world with a monthly income of over VND20 million ($867.94), my income is now only VND5 million a month, just enough for rent and food."

Every night, Duy dons the green Grab jacket to work from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., earning around VND200,000 ($8.68) on a good day.

"Since the government said it would consider allowing foreign visitors with vaccine passports to enter the country and restart already-hobbled tourism, I felt happy and hopeful but with such a complicated pandemic situation that plan remains a distant dream," he said.

Without foreign tourists due to border closures and flight suspension, travel companies had been banking on domestic tourism to survive as the summer holiday season approaches.

According to statistics from HCMC travel agencies, nearly 90 percent of customers have canceled their tours planned for the end of May, June and July, the peak months of the summer travel window.

Long shadow

Nguyen Thi Bich Chi, a hotel employee in the ancient town Hoi An, said her hotel has seen many booking cancelations for this month and next month after Da Nang and Quang Nam recorded community transmissions.

"The ongoing wave is more complicated than previous ones and if the pandemic situation lasts longer than expected and kills the peak summer holiday season, the tourism industry would die again this year," Chi said.

A girl rides a bicycle in a deserted road in Hoi An, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Tan.

A girl rides a bicycle in a deserted road in Hoi An, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Tan.

Cao Tri Dung, chairman of Da Nang Tourism Association, told VnExpress International that based on statistics from travel companies and businesses, 90 percent of visitors have canceled their tours to the city for the summer travel season.

Da Nang, home to the famed Golden Bridge and beautiful beaches like My Khe, Non Nuoc and Nam O, has reported 147 Covid patients from the ongoing wave.

Vietnam’s tourism industry went through one of the most difficult periods in its history last year when the Covid-19 pandemic slashed the number of foreign arrivals by nearly 79 percent to 3.8 million.

Industry revenues plunged nearly 56 percent to VND17.9 trillion ($771.55 million) as flights were canceled and people became reluctant to travel due to fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Industry insiders say many difficulties will likely linger this year.

A survey by Vietnam's Tourism Advisory Board showed that as of March this year, 39 percent of employees in the tourism sector had been unable to resume work, while 61 percent had returned to work with reduced salaries and working hours.

Tourism workers like Hung and Duy hope the new wave would soon be controlled so the domestic tourism could return to normal.

They also expect the government would issue financial support packages for heavily-affected tourism workers as well as prioritize those working in travel industry to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

 
 
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