While the coronavirus has adversely affected practically every aspect of life around the world, the hospitality and travel industries have been among the hardest hit, putting tens of millions of jobs at risk. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, international travel could decline by up to 80% in 2020 compared to 2019, depending on when countries can get a handle on COVID-19. With lockdowns and travel bans and restrictions in place all around the globe, it’s hard to imagine when we’ll ever be able to travel as carefree as we did just a few months ago.
Even though Vietnam has been universally praised for not only flattening the curve but smashing it to smithereens, the travel industry here has not been spared. “The Caravelle Hotel Saigon officially completed its renovation at the end of January with both towers back in operation, but unfortunately by that time COVID-19 had entered Vietnam and the country was starting to put restrictions on travel. Within the next three weeks the hotel had almost had all reservations for the year 2020 cancel and strict restrictions had been put in place for operations,” recalls General Manager Michael Robinson.
“I believe COVID has impacted the entire tourism industry and we are no different,” says Nicholas Wade, General Manager of Khiri Travel Vietnam. “With our main markets being the European Union and North America, we have had to cancel an incredible amount of bookings.”
However, with Vietnam now one of the safest countries on the planet, the outlook is cautiously optimistic, with all eyes trained on our corner of the globe, including China and South Korea, to see what a post-COVID recovery might look like.
Phase 1: Domestic Travel
With international flights still restricted in many parts of the globe, travel pundits agree that it’ll be domestic travel that jump starts the industry, at least for the rest of the year. “I do believe that there is a lot of pent-up demand by domestic travelers to get out after weeks of restricted movements,” says Hanno Stamm, General Manager of Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa. That has certainly been true of Vietnam, as crowds flocked to Dalat, Vung Tau, and other naturebased destinations as soon as restrictions were eased across the country.
Tourism authorities have launched campaigns urging ‘Vietnamese to visit Vietnamese destinations’. Government agencies and travel businesses are joining in by eliminating or discounting admission fees, and slashing rates for travel products including hotel stays and tour packages. Halong Bay recently announced an exemption on entrance fees and port charges in May and on select public holidays throughout the year, and 50% off entrance fees through June and July.
“I think during this time it is important where you can to support local companies, restaurants, and tourist locations. If you are planning on a holiday this year, why not travel within Vietnam and support the local economy, take staycations at local hotels on a Friday or Saturday night to release the cabin fever?” suggests Robinson.
With Vietnam vamping up domestic flights, bus and train services, restaurants, and retail outlets, it’s a nobrainer to take advantage of best-ever rates for a much-deserved holiday close to home. Hearteningly, the foundation for domestic travel is already wellestablished in Vietnam, with locals taking 85 million domestic trips in 2019, led by the country’s younger, tech-savvy, and adventure-seeking youth which numbers in the tens of millions.
Phase 2: Regional Bubbles
As more countries successfully contain the spread of coronavirus, experts agree that the next step will be to open up coronavirus-free “corridors” or “bubbles” between countries deemed safe to travel without the need for quarantine, and leaving out those where the disease is still running its course. Several groups of countries are already in talks, including Australia and New Zealand, a natural pairing of countries with strong geographical and economic ties. Several Baltic states, as well as some European and Scandinavian nations with similar COVID-curve characteristics are also said to be tentatively forming travel corridors.
Asian countries, including Vietnam, China, and South Korea, could very well be next, as this part of the world had a head start in both experiencing and in many cases, containing the virus. If so, this could be a big boost to the Vietnamese travel sector, as China and South Korea traditionally account for a significant portion of international tourists.
“I expect many travelers to first look at their own or neighboring countries when they decide to travel. Nobody likely wants to be stuck at a far-away airport if there is a second wave of travel restrictions,” adds Stamm. And beyond that? When will travel return to pre-COVID levels in both volume and comfort?
“This is the unanswerable question I’m afraid,” notes Wade. “The number of webinars and articles all with different dates is mindblowing. At the moment it could be anywhere between the last quarter of 2021 and the end of 2023. We’ve never lived through anything like this on a global scale so data is not really available to be accurately considered.”
“I think 2020 will be a tough year and 2021 will start to see the return of pre-COVID numbers,” answers a more optimistic Robinson.
Phase 3: The “New Normal”
However, barring a widely available vaccine, we may have to adapt to traveling in a completely new way. While there’s bound to be an initial slashing in ticket fares and hotel rooms to lure people into traveling again, pundits suggest that travel may never be the same, with travelers more concerned about health and the trustworthiness of hotels and airlines than ever before.
“Sanitization is now an extremely important part of hotel operations, rigorous cleaning and sanitizing of all the areas pre- and post-use is now extremely important. Temperature check stations have been in place for some time for anyone entering the hotel premises and I believe will be in place for the majority of the year,” says Robinson whose historic property was the first hotel in Saigon to implement temperature checks.
The new normal for hotels might also include fewer communal areas like buffets and even reception areas and a reduction of “high-touch“ amenities like spa treatments, mini-bars, and bellboy service, along with the addition of stateof-the-art cleaning protocols including ultraviolet light and electrostatic sprayers. Rooms might even stay empty longer between use to further eliminate any possible contamination.
Factors such as health and a return to Nature might also shape future travel trends, with visitors opting for lesscrowded destinations surrounded by fresh air and lots of space rather than urban retreats. “We have partners across the region that we think will want to take advantage of the relatively low visitor numbers and as long as we can provide safe products, will have clients wishing to travel,” says Wade.
“I think that travel will change somewhat such as in people avoiding airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs for a while with a preference for private transport,” posits Stamm. Happily, Vietnam has a host of social distancing-friendly options, including Hai Au Aviation’s Cessna planes which can be chartered starting at VND 35,000,000 per hour. Divided among 10 passengers, it’s actually fairly reasonable for short-haul travel covering 17 cities and provinces across Vietnam. Imagine you and your family bypassing airport queues and skipping crowded baggage claims on the way to a Con Dao getaway in a private villa, the ultimate in social distancing. In Halong Bay, L’Azalée Premium Cruises and Bhaya Cruises both offer single-cabin cruisers where a dedicated crew looks after the needs of just two guests.
Whatever happens, adventurous travelers willing to put up with a certain level of the unknown can likely take advantage of the best rates seen in the last two decades, with the bonus of enjoying top destinations like Angkor Wat and Halong Bay with just a fraction of the regular number of tourists.
Even hard-hit travel providers are finding reasons for optimism. “COVID has given us an opportunity to look at our organisation and make changes where needed, to look at markets that we have not traditionally been involved with, to analyse our crisis strategies and streamline our processes. We do believe there is always a silver lining and despite the negative impact COVID has clearly had, we are looking to the future,” says Wade.
“We are in this for the long haul,” agrees Stamm. “Travel will probably take years to bounce back to previous levels and currently, there are still many uncertainties. However, we are committed to doing our part in keeping this country safe and returning to as normal a life as possible.”
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Enjoy the facilities at the newly renovated Caravelle Hotel Saigon with offers including the Signature Lounge with unlimited service of selected house wines, sparklings, spirits, cocktails and mouthwatering small bites, as well as day use rooms and pool day passes. For more, visit www.caravellehotel.com
Visit www.khiri.com for 4-day, 3-night packages to experience some of Indochina’s most iconic destinations like slow-paced Luang Prabang, majestic Angkor Wat, and picturesque Hoi An, all without the crowds, a true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. From now through September 30, the 4-star Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa is just VND1,990,000 nett for 2, including breakfast and a 3-course set menu lunch or dinner. Bookings are completely changeable and cancellable when booked at www.summerescape.tmgroup.vn/en
Bhaya Legend’s fleet of ships with 1, 2, or 3 cabins offer the ultimate Halong Bay experience, enabling guests to personalize everything from the menu to the itinerary with six crew members on hand including your very own butler and guide. Find more at www.bhayacruises.com
Hai Au Aviation is Vietnam’s only seaplane service, offering scheduled, chartered and scenic flights over some of Vietnam’s most iconic destinations including Halong Bay’s nearly 2,000 stunning islands and the gorgeous Central coastline between Danang and Hue. Visit www.seaplanes.vn/en
L’Azalée Premium Cruises offers a 100% private and exclusive travel experience, including private transfer from Hanoi as well as a personal chef, butler, and dedicated crew on its luxe single-cabin cruiser for an unprecedented level of personal pampering. Visit www.lazaleecruises.vn