Phùng Quang Thắng is an expert in local tourism sector. Photo courtesy of Thắng
Phùng Quang Thắng, director of Hanoitourist Company, vice chairman of the Việt Nam Society of Travel Agents (VISTA), talks to Minh Thu about hard time of Vietnamese tourism.
Inner Sanctum: How would you comment on Việt Nam’s tourism sector in recent times?
Though we face difficult circumstances and are concerned about an approaching second wave, Việt Nam is one of only a few countries around the world to have opened up its domestic tourism market over the last three months and witnessed a solid recovery.
Along with catering to domestic tourists, travel companies, hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites have all improved the quality of their human resources and services and researched new products to prepare for the return of international tourists.
Today I share the same concern as many local companies, with Việt Nam having recorded new cases of community transmission of COVID-19.
Inner Sanctum: What advantages does Việt Nam’s tourism sector possess at this point in time?
Việt Nam is now known as a safe destination, not only in preventing and controlling the pandemic but also in terms of overall safety.
During the “hibernation” period triggered by COVID-19, travel businesses took the opportunity to improve and upgrade the quality of their tourism products and services. I believe that when the international market is re-opened, Việt Nam’s tourism will have a new look but be as charming as ever.
Inner Sanctum: You spoke of the positive changes at local tourism companies. What about Hanoitourist?
We have posted some remarkable achievements over the last three months. We co-operated with partners to design new tours and products, for example night tours of Hỏa Lò Prison in Hà Nội, with tickets costing just VNĐ150,000. Visitors return to the past over a period of 45 minutes, reliving the harshness of French colonial reign and the noble sacrifice of national heroes. Tours utilise both light and sound effects to awaken visitors’ emotions and senses. Many more visitors than we expected have taken the tour, saying how impressive and emotional it was.
Inner Sanctum: Which tourist markets do you believe are more likely to recover faster from the pandemic?
We should obviously focus on markets where the pandemic is now under control. Some are just a short flight away, like those in Southeast Asia as well as Chinese Taipei, Japan, and South Korea. Also possible are countries with direct flights to and from Việt Nam.
We can’t massively open international flights to all markets at the same time. Initially, we could create the conditions for some foreigners to come, such as diplomats, investors, businesspeople, and students, and then work towards welcoming tourists.
UP FRONT: Thắng in a meeting at Hanoitourist. Photo courtesy of himself
Inner Sanctum: What is your suggestion for reviving the tourism industry following the pandemic?
Once a sense of normality returns to Việt Nam, we must think harder about the dual goals of controlling the pandemic and developing the economy. We can’t wait for the pandemic to be totally wiped out before welcoming international visitors again. By then it would be too late, and many opportunities would have been lost. The revenue we earned from the more than 18 million international visitors last year accounted for 55 per cent of the total.
When we re-open to international markets, it is necessary to re-connect with those that have demonstrated a certain level of safety. In my opinion, the tourism sector should co-operate with medical units to identify the safest solutions for residents and visitors. This should also be a prerequisite for re-opening international markets.
Competition will be fierce post-pandemic because every country is keen to attract as many tourists as possible to help revive its economy. Việt Nam needs a comprehensive strategy to offer distinctive and competitive products. We can also, as in the past, promote the country as a safe and friendly destination.
Airlines, travel agents, tourist sites, and hotels must team up to offer attractive, top-quality tours at reasonable prices. I think we need to focus on having three key factors: a safe destination, competitive prices, and professional quality.
We could consider designing special tours for specific groups of tourists. For example, Russian tourists like to come to Việt Nam for its beaches, while South Koreans come here for golf. They aren’t interested in travelling to other places, so can simply be picked up at the airport and taken to their resort, where medical staff can check their health. The resort would be like a quarantine area. VNS