Travel firms, hotels struggle with absence of Chinese tourists

By Lan Huong   April 20, 2022 | 04:44 pm PT
Travel firms, hotels struggle with absence of Chinese tourists
Chinese and other foreign tourists cruise UNESCO's world natural heritage Ha Long Bay, northern Vietnam, 2018. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Travel companies and hotels in Khanh Hoa and Quang Ninh provinces, which depend heavily on Chinese tourists, are worried that their absence could push them to bankruptcy.

Though Vietnam reopened international tourism mid-March, Chinese tourists have not yet been able to visit the country as China persists with its zero-Covid policy with lockdown measures and strict entry restrictions.

Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh, which borders China, has been a favorite destination among Chinese visitors.

"The lack of Chinese tourists has caused my company to lose 60-70 percent of its revenues and I fear we can't hold out much longer and will go bankrupt," said Ngo Van Nam, director of the Quang Nam Trade and Tour Company, which is operating just four tourist boats instead of the 10 it used to.

According to the Ha Long Tourist Boat Association, 70 percent of 500 plus tourist boats in the world-famous bay currently remain idle.

Nam said that before the Covid pandemic, Chinese tourists accounted for 60 percent of his customers and they visited the bay between August to April.

While business is sluggish, Nam still has to pay more than VND70 million a month in employee salaries, maintenance, berthing fees and bank loans.

Though domestic tourism has recovered, the tourists only come visit Ha Long on weekends and his boats remain idle on weekdays, Nam said.

Ngo Thanh Tung, director of the Tung Van Tourism Company, said he has 11 tourist boats but only four have resumed sailing.

Tung said he was eager for the return of Chinese tourists who account for 90 percent of his passengers.

Before the pandemic, each boat served two groups of Chinese tourists every day.

"I just sold my two-star hotel to save my fleet and if Chinese tourists don't come back soon, I could be on the verge of bankruptcy," he said.

Conspicuous absence

In Khanh Hoa, home to famous tourist beach towns of Nha Trang and Cam Ranh, the familiar sight of Chinese tourists flooding downtown streets before the pandemic is obviously missing. In 2019, Khanh Hoa welcomed 3.5 million foreign tourists and 70 percent of them were Chinese.

Khang Thai and Vietnamtourist, the two largest tour operators that specialize in bringing Chinese tourists to Khanh Hoa, have temporarily downed shutters as have many restaurants and entertainment facilities also dependent on visitors from China.

Le Xuan Thom, general director of Hai Dang Group, which owns the four-star Galina Hotel & Spa, said he was afraid he would have to shut down the hotel in the not too distant future if Chinese tourists did not return.

Thom said Chinese tourists used to account for 70 percent of his guests. Chinese always travel in large groups and stay for a long time, he added.

These days, his hotel's occupancy rate was just 25 percent.

Vietnam reopened inbound tourism mid-March after a two-year hiatus with relaxed entry rules.

Deputy tourism minister Doan Van Viet said that with major feeder markets like China and Japan still imposing strict entry restrictions, the number of foreign tourists visiting Vietnam has remained relatively low.

In March, Vietnam welcomed 15,000 foreign tourists, 10 times higher than the previous month, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

In 2019, China was Vietnam’s biggest feeder market with 5.8 million arrivals.

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