Western tourists keen to return, not keen on quarantine rules

By Hoang Phong   September 18, 2021 | 05:00 am PT
Western tourists keen to return, not keen on quarantine rules
Long Beach on Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang Province. Photo by VnExpress/Khanh Tran
Western tourists who have already visited Vietnam are excited that the country is reopening Phu Quoc Island, but they are also clear about wanting to enjoy a quarantine-free stay.

Peter Scott, an Australian from Queensland, was happy to hear that the Vietnamese government plans to reopen the famous resort island to vaccinated foreign tourists from next month after nearly two years of closing national borders.

"That's the best news I've heard in the last 18 months. I'll wait a few more weeks to return to Vietnam."

Scott said he has already traveled to Phu Quoc four times and was impressed by the beauty of long, sandy beaches, peaceful fishing villages and busy night market.

"It's a really beautiful island. I was taken by a local to visit fishing villages and enjoy seafood."

But the foreigners that VnExpress International spoke to were also unanimous that quarantine requirements would be decision-influencing factor in making a trip to the Mekong Delta island.

Their concern was that although Vietnamese authorities agreed to reopen the island, they did not specify whether fully vaccinated visitors would be exempt from the 14-day quarantine or have the period shortened.

Scott said he has been vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. But he would reconsider his plan to visit Phu Quoc if he had to be quarantined.

"No tourist is going to agree to be stuck in a hotel for a holiday after having traveled on a long-haul flight," he said.

George Smith, a 58-year-old British citizen, said he planned to visit Phu Quoc late October, but was still waiting for official information from Vietnamese authorities to see if he would be quarantined upon arrival or not.

"I have got two doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine and by the end of this year I will probably get the booster shot in the U.K. And even after I have got the two doses, I am still keeping away from group gatherings and being very careful around other people," Smith said.

"I personally love Vietnam and two years ago when I visited HCMC I told myself I will come back and travel from the north to south. This time I want to visit Phu Quoc Island," he said.

But, he added: "I don't want to be quarantined or stuck on an island for a long time. I want to explore your beautiful country. I think the government should exempt vaccinated tourists from quarantine as they are basically no longer a Covid threat."

Mohan Ponnudurai, an American man living in Florida, said he had many times traveled to Vietnam and once he and his wife went to Phu Quoc Island, which he described as "a paradise getting born" which he believes will become the next Bali.

Ponnudurai, who has got two jabs of the Pfizer vaccine since April, is keen on returning to Phu Quoc but said he will not travel there with current Covid restrictions.

"No one would want to be sequestered or limited to just the resort when on vacation," he said.

He also said that "I don't think most Southeast Asian countries would be wide open till Delta variant is under control and at least 50 percent of the population is vaccinated."

Sharing similar concerns

Local travel firms were also concerned that imposing long quarantine periods would discourage foreign tourists from visiting Vietnam.

Pham Ha, chairman of the Lux Group, which specializes in providing luxury travel services for foreign tourists to Vietnam, said customers have said they want to enjoy quarantine-free travel and had no wish to be cooped up in a resort for a week or more.

They say they would not come to Vietnam if they had to be quarantined, Ha said.

From October to May next year is the winter escape season for European tourists, Ha suggested that the Vietnamese tourism industry focuses on markets like the U.K., Germany, France and Spain. In Asia, Singapore and South Korea could be considered.

To attract tourists immediately, Ha advised that the focus be on charter passengers from the Russian market as Phu Quoc has been a destination that Russians have favored for years.

A tourism expert based in Hanoi, who asked to remain anonymous, said over 70 percent of foreign tourists to Phu Quoc hope to travel to more places, instead of being limited to a few areas around resorts.

"The reopening of Phu Quoc Island is a necessary step to revive the tourism industry; however, high expectations should not be set," the expert said.

After two years of closing its borders to contain the pandemic, Vietnam last week decided to allow fully immunized tourists from Europe, the U.S., Northeast Asia, Australia and the Middle East to visit Phu Quoc from October.

During the first three months of the six-month trial program, tourists can only reach the island on charter flights and would have to stay in sequestered areas of selected resorts or destinations.

Travel firms and tourism experts have already opined that such strict measures would hinder foreign tourists from returning to Phu Quoc, with no one wanting to spend a lot of money to be quarantined in a hotel/resort and only visit limited areas.

Phu Quoc, Vietnam's largest island, shot up in popularity after the government rolled out a 30-day visa-free policy for foreigners in 2014.

In 2019, before the onset of the ongoing pandemic, it received over five million visitors, including 541,600 foreigners.

If the Phu Quoc sandbox program gets underway in October, it will become the first locality in Vietnam to welcome foreign tourists since April 2020.

Vietnam’s tourism industry has experienced one of the most difficult periods in its history under Covid-19 impacts. Last year, the number of foreign arrivals plunged nearly 80 percent to 3.8 million.

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