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Domestic tourism vital to revive flagging industry
Saigondautu - 12/28/2021 1:29:58 PM
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The loss to international tourism in Vietnam has been phenomenal in the last two years, with the Covid-19 pandemic causing all international flights to be grounded. 
Now with the Government decision to restore regular international flights under high safety conditions from 1 January 2022, the tourism segment is hoping for a revival to a very vital sector that will help the stagnating tourism industry. In order to once again boost the tourism sector, much effort is required from ministries, localities, and businesses. However, even though international tourism is important for the tourism industry, it is the domestic segment of tourism that will always remain the main pulse of the tourism industry in Vietnam.
Travel apprehensions
On 10 December, the Vietnamese Government issued orders of Permanent Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh to restore regular international commercial flights from early 2022. All international flights will operate under strict safety regulations of the Covid-19 pandemic on some important routes such as to Beijing and Guangzhou in China, Tokyo in Japan, Seoul in South Korea, Taipei in Taiwan, Bangkok in Thailand, Singapore, Vientiane in Laos, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, San Francisco and Los Angeles in USA. The reopening of international flight routes will be as per guidance of the Ministry of Health, which will follow strict preventive measures and safeguard rules to ensure that all passengers comply procedures that will prevent the further spread of the pandemic.
This news that international flights are being restored has brought much cheer in the entire tourism industry in Vietnam as both aviation and tours go hand in hand. In early November, the Government had agreed on a pilot plan to welcome international tourists to Vietnam, and by the end of November, Quang Nam province was the first destination to welcome international visitors. Up until now, three out of the five destinations targeted for the pilot plan have already welcomed foreign tourists. The first three are Quang Nam, Kien Giang, and Khanh Hoa provinces, while Da Nang and Quang Ninh province are still preparing.
However, these groups of foreign tourists all came by charter flights organised exclusively by travel agencies, so their numbers were very limited and hence not very cost effective. This is the reason why many tourism businesses on the list of participating in the pilot plan are unwilling to welcome international visitors and many are even hesitant to make the necessary preparations required to receive foreign visitors. The businesses who received foreign tourists this time had to bear the shortfall in costs, due to such few customers.
Nonetheless, the restoring of international flight routes has brought in a lot of hope in the international tourism industry. The market segments from Thailand and South Korea are expected to boost tourism in the first phase of reopening of destinations. Mr. Nguyen Trung Khanh, Director General of the National Administration of Tourism, said that the tourism management agency of Vietnam and Thailand is preparing to meet to discuss the exchange of tourists between the two countries.
After the flow of foreign visitors from Thailand and South Korea, Vietnam will focus on far off locations such as the US and Europe in the fourth quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023. By that time, the Ministry of Transport plans to lift or ease quarantine rules for passengers who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or have fully recovered from the disease. This will also include passengers showing negative test results for SARS-CoV-2 by rapid antigen testing methods or RT-PCR within 72 hours before the flight to Vietnam.
The Ministry of Health is currently consulting other ministries, related sectors, and localities for appropriate advice and solutions for a draft application for measures to prevent and control the Covid-19 pandemic for people entering Vietnam via international routes. 
For instance, for fully vaccinated people entering the country, or even those who have recovered from Covid-19, the Ministry of Health recommends that in the first three days after entry they must be asked to self-monitor their health and not to leave their house or come into contact with people living in the same premises. They must also be tested by the RT-PCR method on the third day by local health authorities. However, this draft only mentions Vietnamese citizens or overseas Vietnamese and their relatives, but does not mention foreign nationals visiting Vietnam for tourism or work. Once this regulation is issued, the tourism industry will be both surprised as well as react to this disparity.
High expectations
The travel businesses are not only anxiously waiting for the Ministry of Health announcement, but are also expecting the tourism industry to promote key destinations and markets. It seems that Vietnam is lagging behind Thailand and Singapore in welcoming international visitors. If Vietnam does not act fast and clearly indicates to foreign visitors that the country is well prepared to greet tourists in the current pandemic situation, it will fall back on its plans to revive foreign travel in the coming year.
The fact that the two major tourist cities of Vietnam, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, have yet to officially announce an opening to international visitors shows that promotion plans to entice foreign visitors is very limited. Communication is weak and not planned in the Vietnamese tourism industry, compared to other countries in the region.
Vietnam needs to move fast to convince foreign visitors that the country is ready as a tourist destination, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The international tourism segment needs to be convinced that Vietnam will not lag behind. At this time, the new omicron variant is also causing concern in Vietnam, same as in many countries across the globe. This is affecting tourism in many countries, and visitors need to be convinced of safety measures taken during their stay in destinations as well as on their flight routes.
While international tourism is still quite unclear of its future prospects, the domestic tourism segment is full of expectations, especially during the year-end holiday season and coming lunar new year holidays when a large number of overseas Vietnamese return to their hometowns. These travellers bring in a huge amount of revenue, as they are a large source of income for domestic tourism. If regulations of the Ministry of Health are issued soon with more open and flexible conditions, this group of travellers will continue to be a great source of revenue for many travel businesses.
Some businesses are already preparing tour programs for family groups returning to their hometown during Tet. Looking back over the last two years when the international tourism sector was in total limbo, it was the domestic tourism sector that saved the whole industry from total collapse. After such a long period of near stagnation because of strict social distancing measures, the demand for tourism during the year-end season and coming Lunar New Year shows signs of reviving.
There is a general perception that tourists are still afraid of the disease and of becoming infected, but this is not necessarily true because when the vaccination rate reaches a high level, many domestic tourists are prepared to venture out for new travel experiences. However, all travel companies and localities will have to offer innovative and suitable products for tourists to want to travel and see new places, compared to before the pandemic.
Thanh Lam
Read original article here
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