When Vietnam’s major cities reopened their economy in October and entered a “new normal,” local industries were the first to feel the massive changes brought about by four months of strict lockdown measures. Some companies were wary and anxious instead of getting excited about being back in the business, as there were too many factors to consider: employee vaccinations, work setup, supply and workforce shortage, and the expensive costs of daily operations with all the limitations set in deliveries and moving of supplies.
Given Vietnam’s new strategy from “zero COVID” to “live with the virus” and the fact that the country’s COVID-19 cases have already surpassed one million and are constantly growing, how can businesses fully adapt to and survive the impacts of the omnipresent risks of coronavirus?
We spoke with experts from different industries in Vietnam to find out how they were coping one month after the lockdowns were lifted, what significant changes they’ve implemented to stay afloat amidst the pandemic, and what the future holds for these industries that contribute hugely to the national economy.
Seif Hamdy, General Manager at InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort
"The hospitality industry in Vietnam has been hard hit by the pandemic, and many hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses have been forced to permanently close. In our case, we have been fortunate with the backing of our owners, to have used the time to refresh and renovate many elements of our resort. We have also conducted intensive staff training both with Forbes luxury service training as well as leadership training. And we developed a number of interesting new experiences so we will be ready to welcome back our guests. We have also used the time to stay in close touch with our customers so that when travel opens up, we are there to serve them. So COVID-19 has been a surprisingly busy time for us at InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort.
We have introduced enhanced safety procedures as recommended by the government and led by our brand's global initiative, the IHG Clean Promise. It's a comprehensive set of protocols that guide every aspect of cleanliness and hygiene.
Business at this stage of COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam is encouraging. We re-opened six weeks ago, and we see a slow but steady growth in demand. This allows us to fine-tune our guest service after several months of closure, reignite client relationships and explore every avenue of finding new business as it emerges. While it may take a while, we are optimistic for a strong recovery of tourism in Danang and indeed across Vietnam."
Michael Ngo, Country Director at ELSA Vietnam
"I believe the EdTech industry is uniquely positioned to cope well with the changes brought about by COVID-19. When it comes to precautions and policies, I cannot speak for the entire industry. But for ELSA Speak, we have been working with distributed teams since our inception way before the pandemic. Our teams have been able to seamlessly navigate the transition from working in the office to WFH to most recently, hybrid working. Nevertheless, we have noticed that prolonged WFH has increased the likelihood of burnout and fatigue. We’re sure this is a common observation in other companies as well.
As Vietnam is transitioning to a new normal of living with COVID-19, we are cautiously transitioning back to office using the government's framework as a baseline. Before making any major decisions, we ran a poll with our employees. Everyone looks forward to being able to work in person with their teams, but there is hesitation due to safety concerns as cases are slowly on the rise again. We address this concern by offering our employees voluntary opt-in hybrid work, but staggering it out according to 30% capacity in November, 50% in December, and eventually back to 100% capacity in January 2022. Of course, this arrangement is subject to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. At the office, we follow the 5K rules, conduct a quick test every two weeks and disinfect the office regularly. Finally, we also have a detailed action plan in place to handle an F0 case.
On the business side, we have been extremely fortunate that many new learners across Vietnam are turning to ELSA Speak throughout the last two years with marked surges in both demand and engagement during lockdown periods. ELSA Speak is proud to be Vietnam’s product of choice in helping learners prepare for life in a new normal and more importantly, take on new opportunities in a post-COVID world."
Agriculture and Retail
Le Hoang Diep Thao, Founder and CEO at TNI King Coffee and Vice Chairman at VICOFA
"COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed people's coffee consumption habits. Now that everyone prefers to stay in their homes, there’s been a rise in demand for instant coffee, which, by the way, accounts for 25% of the world’s coffee consumption. The demand is expected to grow in the years to come.
Considering this fact, Vietnam actually has the upper hand. With the abundance of Robusta beans in the country, the country can become the world’s leading producer of instant coffee. This is also a great chance for Vietnam to promote Robusta, which has been unfairly tagged grade 2 coffee bean.
However, coffee farming and manufacturing have also been affected by COVID-19, especially when Vietnam’s major cities went into full lockdown for months. Good thing we were able to develop measures to counter the situation and ensure that the production continues. We created a sustainable value chain, applied IoT in planting and harvesting coffee beans, and shifted to digital production.
The quality of our products has become better, thanks to the data we collected over time, helping TNI King Coffee to ensure high–quality output, creating competitive advantages and leading market share. Early digital transformation really helped us confidently overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
TNI King Coffee has reached outstanding achievements in the international market in the year of 2020, doubling the previous year's revenue. In the first three quarters of 2021, we still see a robust export growth of TNI King Coffee after our success in 2020. We exported to more than 120 countries around the world and increased sales by launching new product lines. Last May, we opened King Coffee in the US.
Beyond TNI King Coffee, I believe it’s really important for a “traditional” industry such as coffee farming to apply technological innovations into its processes. This pandemic has taught us how important digitalization is to keep businesses running even when we can’t go to work in physical offices or factories."
Le Van Quoc Khanh, COO at Ninja Van
"The prolonged impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, strong customer centricity, rising e-commerce complexity, unsatisfied demand for direct-to-consumer, and the potential risk of financial peril are putting e-logistics providers under acute and growing pressure to maximize the intelligent use of technology to get an edge in Vietnam, where technology adoption and infrastructure improvements are highly embraced.
However, from a positive standpoint, this is an opportunity for e-commerce to grow. According to data from the Department of Industry and Trade in Ho Chi Minh City at the end of April 2021, 62.5% of local consumers utilize the internet for shopping, with 17.9% opting for online payments. People are going to the internet to shop in order to avoid the crowds caused by the pandemic, but getting the items into the hands of the consumer can be difficult. As a result, the logistics business as a whole has a lot of room to grow, and we hope that the government will help it flourish by enacting reasonable regulations to cope with this situation.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis in 2021, Ninja Van Vietnam strictly implements the '3 on the spot' containment strategy to ensure that our a network of warehouses and delivery centers are consistently under work-related safety, from there, prioritizing workers' health, tracking parcel status, and promising the highest possible delivery rate.
Moreover, we will complete business activities for the fourth quarter of 2021. For example, based on our big data analytics, we have opened training courses to detect anomalies and outliers to provide timely resolutions for all customers. We have created 40 different training modules for our shippers and warehouse staff to avoid recalcitrant buyer behavior on COD free delivery services since 2020.
In November, Ninja Van is going to launch a promotional campaign in Vietnam 'Giao thong suot, Nhan ven nguyen' (Smooth delivery, Parcel intact) to support sellers in the fourth quarter. With all staff vaccinated against Covid-19, Ninja Van will maintain its service delivery price during the pandemic to support hard-hit customers."
Bui Van Cong Chinh, Plant Manufacturing Manager at First Solar Vietnam Manufacturing
"The latest wave of COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam made extreme disruptions across the manufacturing and supply chain sector. With the extent of delivery delays for raw materials, reduced operational capacity due to social distancing requirements, many manufacturers were faced with huge costs that lead to temporary closures or significantly drop in output. In order to adapt with the changes brought by COVID-19, some factories must quickly switch current operational models to either 'three on the spot' (work, eat and sleep onsite) or 'one route, two destinations' (arranging transportation on one route between the work venue and accommodation.
Also in a short amount of time, a lot of initiatives have been issued to provide enough food supplies, sufficient living space and compensation packages for employees who are willing to stay inside the factory campus. Moreover, rapid tests must be conducted by regular schedule to address the risk and immediately eliminate any potential risk to the safe bubbles.
First Solar is one of the successful businesses that’s able to keep continuous operation despite the lockdown; we even achieved output higher than target. The factory started daily commuting arrangements after 99 days of implementing “three on-sites”. We are still extra careful in daily operation with high demand of all employees to comply with social distancing, reduced social interaction as much as possible, clear guidelines and instruction for response plan to handle F0/F1 cases well with full cooperation from all employees.
To sustain businesses for the long term, all enterprises must implement new safety precautions such as contactless delivery, strict 5K compliance, employee vaccinations and rapid tests for early risk detection."