As many neighboring countries have set out to reopen borders to inbound travelers, Vietnam's tourism heavyweights are petitioning for an elaborate protocol where vaccinated tourists are allowed to enter the country without having to spend 14 days in quarantine.
Considering the current success that Vietnam has achieved against the spread of COVID-19, it is essential that the locations for the proposed reopening be isolated places with low population density to ensure safety for tourists as well as Vietnamese citizens.
The right location
The draft reopening plan for international tourists, formulated by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, has recently been presented to business representatives and experts in the tourism sector for appraisal.
During a dialogue event, tourism businesses pointed out that Vietnam is already one step behind neighboring countries in bringing back international visitors.
Huynh Van Son, general director of Sea Star Co. Ltd., said that the road map to such reopening should be finalized early, with criteria for selecting locations, capable firms, and a plan for stimulating demand to be included.
“The tourism sector is already in a slough, but we are not asking for bailout packages from the government," Son said.
"What we need is a road map to safe reopening to bring back international tourists.”
Son also suggested a trial phase with limited reopening in certain locations, which will inform a similar process in other locales during the next phases.
Phu Quoc Island off southern Kien Giang Province, with low population concentration, adequate isolation from the mainland, sufficient infrastructure, hotel and service quality, and an established reputation might tick all the boxes, Son proposed.
Phu Quoc also proves the perfect location to boost the development of a night-time economy, an initiative currently promoted by the Vietnamese government, he added.
Nguyen The Lam, president of Phu Quoc Investment Tourism Development Association, pointed out that vaccine is the only ray of hope for global connection at the moment, which inexorably led to a need for COVID-19 vaccination certificates, or informally 'vaccine passports.'
However, in order for 'vaccine passports' to yield effectiveness, the tourist industry needs to find tourists with demand and free time, connecting them with suitable destinations.
This requires prioritization of promotion, outreach activities, as well as longer tours with more competitive pricing.
“We look forward to welcoming back tourists without having to wait for quarantine,” Lam said.
To Viet Thang, deputy CEO of domestic budget carrier Vietjet Air, stated that a safe flight protocol is crucial in ensuring safety in the reopening plan.
In this regard, Vietjet has recently acquired a seven-star rating, the highest mark for COVID-19 safety compliance, awarded by the world's famous airline safety and product rating website AirlineRating.
“With 80 operating aircraft, an established reputation, and capability on international routes, we are ready to relaunch all international flights once allowed to,” Thang declared.
Vietnam needs to take action on the reopening immediately, despite being hardly able to pinpoint a reopening date at the moment due to a slow vaccine rollout that proves little progress in ensuring herd immunity, according to Nguyen Huu Y Yen, CEO of travel agency Saigontourist.
Considering this, the tourism sector needs to pick out safe locations for reopening and devise high-quality products and services to activate the demand of international visitors.
The COVID-19 protocols of visitors’ home countries should be taken into account as well, Yen added.
“Tourists will not travel if we open but they are still subject to quarantine when returning to their countries,” Yen said.
Over the past year, the tourism sector has shambled by all counts, with 25,000 tour guides leaving the sector, while hotels see room occupancy drop to all-time lows.
However, businesses have not given up all hope.
Tran Thi Nguyen, a representative of Sun Group, suggested that a quick test on arrival for tourists be rolled out if vaccination passports are deemed improper.
If a visitor turns in two negative tests, one of them conducted before boarding the plane, that person should be allowed into the country without having to spend 14 days in quarantine.
“While Vietnam is formulating a standardized protocol for reopening, we need communication campaigns so that foreign tourists don't forget us,” Nguyen said, also pointing to Taiwan as a prospective market since the island did exceptionally well in fending off COVID-19.
International visitors proved a wellspring for Vietnam’s budding tourism.
Despite only adding up to 18 million visits to Vietnam in 2019, compared to 85 million domestic visitors in the same year, international tourists generated 56 percent of revenue for Vietnamese tourism that year