International tourism key to revival, relax quarantine rules: industry insiders

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A sense of caution tempers the excitement as stakeholders prepare for the full resumption of international tourism on March 15. Will Viet Nam’s quarantine rules prove a deterrent?

Foreign tourists visit the War Remnants Museum in HCM City on February 25. — VNS Photo Thu Hang

The worry nags travel agencies, hoteliers, tourist destination managers and other stakeholders as they prepare hard for the return of international visitors, sprucing up their premises, hiring and training new staff, and so on.

All businesses in the tourism industry were excitedly preparing for the return of international tourists, said Nguyen Ngoc An, deputy general director of Fiditour-Vietluxtour.

“It is a positive sign for recovery of tourism industry which depends so much on the international market,” he added.

With international tourism frozen, revenues from domestic travel cannot make up for losses suffered as a result of the pandemic and subsequent closure of borders.

An told Viet Nam News that his company had readied staff, facilities and travel products and services, ensuring everything would be in order to welcome foreign tourists back to Viet Nam.

Businesses are calling workers to return and have launched retraining programmes because many left the industry after COVID-19 brought travel to a standstill.

“If we start marketing in overseas markets from now, we can lure international travellers back during the peak travel season from September until the end of the year,” An said.

Tran Xuan Thao, director of the War Remnants Museum in HCM City, said they had refurbished the premises to receive international visitors from mid-March.

“We are excited about seeing groups of international tourists visit the museum after the borders were closed for such a long time,” she said.

Staff had been trained in professional skills and given guidance on pandemic prevention and control at tourist destinations.

“There is no doubt that a full recovery will take time and we hope that the museum will serve large groups of international travellers in the second half of this year,” she said.

Before the pandemic, the museum used to receive 1.3 million visitors a year, 80 per cent of them foreigners.

Vu Thi Thanh Hien, deputy director of the Grand Hotel Saigon in District 1, said they were all set to welcome international travellers from mid-March.

The hotel had suffered major losses since the country restricted international tourist arrivals to combat COVID-19. Domestic guests were now the major source of revenue, she said.

Stringent quarantine rules

Amidst the high expectations, many travel operators are also worried that stringent entry measures with multiple tests and quarantine requirements will make it harder for them to revive their business.

Under a new health ministry proposal, it will be compulsory for tourists to stay at their place of accommodation for the first 24 hours after entry. They are also encouraged to extend the stay on arrival to 72 hours and undergo two COVID-19 tests – one on day of entry and another on the third day.

If they wish to leave their place of accommodation after the first day, they will need to get tested for COVID-19 every day until the end of the 72-hour period.

Nguyen Minh Man, marketing director of TSTtourist, told Viet Nam News that the proposal would greatly inconvenience foreigners visiting Viet Nam, making it difficult for travel operators to welcome large groups of overseas visitors.

“If quarantine requirements are removed for vaccinated travellers and consistent policies issued for both domestic and international tourists, the tourism sector can take advantage of opportunities to compete with other countries,” Man said.

Stricter travel rules, however, would create recovery barriers for the hard-hit tourism industry, hampering its ability to adapt to new normal conditions, he said

An of Fiditour-Vietluxtour said more countries had started to open their borders with relaxed entry and quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers.

The health ministry’s proposal would make it difficult for international tourism to succeed, because visitors would not want to face the hassles of multiple tests and 72-hour hotel quarantine, An said, adding that they wouldn’t have much time left to travel on seven to 15-day tours, not to mention the expenses involved.

Initially, travel agencies were expecting to attract tourists from select markets like neighbouring ASEAN members and a few other countries to which commercial flight routes had resumed, he added.

Vo Anh Tai, deputy general director of Saigontourist Group, a leading travel agency in the country, told Viet Nam News that specific and clear travel rules and guidelines for receiving international travellers needed to be worked out soon.

It takes more time for plan and market products and services for overseas travellers than domestic ones, according to Tai. Therefore, it is only after the procedures are made clear and implementation guidelines are issued that businesses will be confident to carry out their plans and work with international partners.

Outbound plans

Many HCM City travel operators are also banking on outbound tours as international flights resume from mid-March.

Vietravel took 180 guests on a charter flight to India from Ha Noi in late February and a group of 45 to Dubai from HCM City earlier this month. These are the two first outbound tours that the company has operated this year.

Vo Anh Tai, deputy general director of Saigontourist Group, said the company was now focusing on both attracting international tourists to Viet Nam and taking Vietnamese tourists abroad.

Saigontourist had resumed outbound tours to the US, Thailand, Dubai and Maldives and planned to expand to other markets.

“MICE group tours and individuals with high financial budgets are currently the main travellers joining outbound tours,” he said.

The number of bookings for outbound tours has risen and favoured markets include the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Europe, travel agencies say.

An of Fiditour-Vietluxtour said the demand among Vietnamese people to go abroad was strong after two years of border closures.

The recovery of outbound tours would generate revenues for travel operators and aid industry revival in general, he said, adding that more outbound tours would be launched in line with the Government’s tourism reopening directions in the coming time.

The BenThanh Tourist company is also planning to offer outbound tours for individual travellers and MICE groups to Maldives, Dubai, the US and some Southeast Asian countries.

Promotion imperatives

“More and more countries in the region, like Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia, are gradually resuming tourism activities. To compete and affirm its position on the international tourism map, Viet Nam’s tourism industry needs to promote itself by utilising diverse marketing channels. This requires coordination between many actors, including state agencies, local authorities, industry-related organisations, and enterprises,” said Mauro Gasparotti, director of Savills Hotels APAC.

The recent positive signals (such as easing of travel and border restrictions) have resulted in many hotel owners and management teams restarting their operations, Gasparotti said.

Recruitment, training and marketing activities were being undertaken to recapture the international market. In terms of new developments, construction had sped up and pre-opening activities were being carried out diligently, he said.

“Hotels should take advantage of their well-established global networks and distribution systems to promote Viet Nam’s tourism industry. This is a vital step in welcoming back international guests and promoting the country as an attractive and safe destination,” he added.

Nguyen Thi Anh Hoa, director of the HCM City Department of Tourism told Viet Nam News that the city’s tourism industry was focusing efforts on promoting the city as a vibrant and safe tourist destination on domestic and international media platforms.

A number of information and marketing plans as well as preferential policies had been prepared for the return of international travellers, particularly MICE tourists and other large group tours, she said.

The city targets welcoming 3.5 million international tourists this year.

Source: VNS

The proposals by MOH on requiring foreign arrivals not to leave accommodations for the first 72 hours in Vietnam have discouraged travel firms. They say the overly strict requirement is contrary to the Government’s policy on tourism reopening.

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