Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc (third from left) in a meeting with Vietnamese entrepreneurs in Hà Nội. — Photo chinhphu.vn
HÀ NỘI — The COVID-19 pandemic has been a test for Vietnamese businesses as many have been and will be struggling to recover for the foreseeable future. Those who emerge from the crisis will have proven their mettle by overcoming an unprecedented and difficult time, said business leaders.
No sector has been hit harder than tourism. Hotels and resorts across the country, which were often bustling with tourists, have seen the number of visitors drop by as much as 90 per cent since strict travel measures were put in place by the world's governments to contain the spread of the virus. Despite recent efforts to tap into local demand, the sector simply could not make up for the sudden loss of foreign visitors.
Nguyễn Mạnh Cường, CEO of a local tourism company, said many firms, his included, have been biding their time in the hope of a strong recovery once the pandemic is under control.
"We cannot do it alone without support from the central government and tourism authorities, though," he said.
Other sectors have also been experiencing one of the worst declines since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Nguyễn Quốc Hiệp, CEO of a property investment firm, said demand for properties has never been lower with firms reporting just a quarter or less of their usual sales figure compared to the same period of 2019.
"We knew we were heading for choppy waters but nobody expected this. It's not an overstatement to say we wasted eight months of 2020 with nothing to show for it. It is now impossible to meet our yearly sales targets," Hiệp said.
Even traditionally strong industries such as textiles and footwear have not been exempted. Sharp falls in demand and order cancellations from international buyers have resulted in major disruptions with firms forced to lay off workers or reduce working hours.
Phan Minh Chính, chairman of sportswear maker Pro-Sport, said the pandemic has forced textile firms to switch their production to short-term and less sustainable products such as masks and PPE suits.
"These orders are not bringing in a lot of money anymore but they allow us to keep our workshops open and our workers employed," said Chính.
Chính, Hiệp and Cường said the most important objective right now for their firms is to stay alive and make sure they could keep their workers for a post-pandemic comeback.
As the pandemic continues to ravage the economy, firms have started to adapt and even find opportunities to innovate and grow.
With the population mostly wary about heading out, businesses have been finding ways to connect with customers from the safety and comfort of their homes. According to a report by market research company International Data Corporation (IDC), over 70 per cent of Vietnamese small-to-medium-sized enterprises have ramped up on the digitalisation front to reach their customers in the last nine months of 2020.
E-wallet MoMo said the company has provided thousands of small businesses from department stores to food vendors with a digital platform to stay connected with consumers. The company said since the pandemic the growth of its e-wallet business has doubled compared to the previous year.
The IDC's report claimed said firms, once fully digitalised, may contribute up to US$30 billion to the country's GDP by 2024.
Becamex, one of the largest investment and industrial development firms in the country, said it has been working on a digitalisation strategy for years. Disruptions caused by the pandemic have provided the corporation with enough reason and motivation to finally implement it. After a few months, Becamex's internal reports have shown reduced business expenses, up to 50 per cent in some areas, and significant improvement in business and time management.
Trần Hải Linh, CEO of e-commerce firm Sendo, said the massive increase in online shopping and e-commercial activities presented tech firms with a unique opportunity to develop big data and machine learning technologies at such a speed it will accelerate the process by two to three years.
Nguyễn Quốc Kỳ, chairman of Vietravel, said it's up to business leaders to recognise opportunities in times of crisis but for that to happen they must maintain a positive outlook and always be on the hunt for new ideas.
In a letter to the business community released on Tuesday, October 13 - Việt Nam Entrepreneurs' Day - Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc said the Government of Việt Nam will stand shoulder to shoulder with the business sector and entrepreneurs by implementing support packages and policies to provide a boost for businesses to quickly get back on their feet.
The Government leader said the pandemic is a test for the business sector and business leaders must try "twice or thrice as hard to overcome it".
Việt Nam reported 2.12 per cent growth for the first nine months of the year, a rare success story in the time of COVID-19, through significant tax cuts and fees for businesses while at the same time implementing administrative reforms and speeding up of e-government building. — VNS