Bich had her 30th birthday planned out: a solo five-day trip to Bali where she would try surfing and hike up Mount Batur. “I wanted to try traveling on my own, something I have never ever done because I was too scared.” But instead of riding the waves in Kuta and witnessing a dramatic sunrise atop the 5,600-foot volcanic marvel, she spent her birthday inside her home in Cu Chi. “I am thankful of course that my family and I are safe and none of us contracted the virus. But giving up my Bali trip was heartbreaking.”
Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese had to unpack their bags, cancel their flights and hold off their trips when COVID-19 hit the country. After detecting its first few coronavirus cases, Vietnam immediately shut its borders and restricted inbound and outbound travel — a measure that saved the country from experiencing total lockdown.
Besides the government’s proven strategy to manage outbreaks, the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign has fueled hopes among travel-hungry Vietnamese.
A March 2021 data from Booking.com showed that four in five (or 82%) Vietnamese travelers feel more hopeful about traveling this year. Over three in four stated that not being able to travel extensively in 2020 has made them yearn for travel even more in 2021.
This new optimism was brought about by the availability of vaccines, with 66% of Vietnamese travelers saying they won’t travel internationally until they have been vaccinated. Majority of the respondents also said they will only travel to countries that have implemented vaccination programs.
Three-quarters of the respondents said they used their increased time spent at home to plan future travel and are thrilled at the prospect of getting to fulfil those plans in 2021 (74%). More than half have banked more vacation days and are excited to take longer vacations this year, Booking.com revealed.
As a matter of fact, many prefer to travel than “find true love” (69%) and “get promoted” (57%) in 2021.
Joint effort for travel recovery
The hospitality sector does not seem to share the same intensity of cheerfulness and positivity. 70% of Booking.com’s global accommodation partners are “cautiously optimistic” about the future of their business. Albeit expecting an increase in interest for travel in 2021, many think the ever-changing COVID-19 situation will only make travelers more indecisive.
And with the emergence of new local coronavirus cases in Vietnam, tourism has been put into halt yet again.
TIA Wellness Resort in Danang was already preparing to welcome guests when a fresh case was recorded on April 27, after 35 days of no community transmission. The resort has already closed and reopened its property several times since last year.
“We closed in April 2020 and reopened in July. We then closed again from August before reopening in November 2020. We opened for a few days in December before closing for our full refurbishment and rebranding,” revealed Tuan Pham, assistant revenue manager at the resort. “And as with all resorts in the region, we experienced booking cancellations.”
As a bold response to the changes brought by the pandemic, the resort shifted its priority from relaxation to offering authentic wellbeing, and thus rebranding from Fusion Maia to TIA Wellness. “The year provided a lesson in the importance of resilience while navigating change, and the new concept focuses on empowering guests through inspirational wellness retreats.” All the staff have also undergone in-depth training on new cleanliness, safety and hygiene standards.
The all-villa spa resort is currently closed, after guests cancelled their stay and the Vietnamese government ordered several establishments, including spas, buffet restaurants and entertainment centers, to temporarily stop operations.
A Saigon-based travel agency has also discontinued organizing tours as guests feel the threat of the new (and possibly the worst) wave of coronavirus. Before April 27, their Mekong tours were a hit among domestic customers. Now they rely on visa and work permit services for expatriates to keep the company open.
If Vietnam succeeds in containing this new outbreak, resorts and establishments in affected areas will welcome customers back in no time. But the losses that they have accumulated since last year will be hard to regain.
In the same survey by Booking.com, 98% of travelers think there needs to be a joint effort for the travel industry to fully recover. Many also worry the industry won’t survive unless the government supports it with grants. 78% believe financial stimuli are necessary to support the industry.
To aid the hospitality sector and the whole travel industry, 26% of the respondents plan to use vouchers from cancelled trips instead of getting monetary refunds, 29% want to buy vouchers for family and friends to use when it’s safe to travel again, and 24% plan to book accommodations in or near their hometowns to support local businesses.