Flu virus fears hammer tourism industry
In the past week, business at Vietnamese travel firms has suffered as news spreads that the H1N1 is becoming epidemic in Vietnam. Flu and economic recession have driven down international tourist arrivals dramatically.
This year the global economic downturn and attractive promotions have prompted many Vietnamese to travel in-country instead of going abroad. Domestic tourism has boomed in recent months, causing travel firms to cherish the hope that August, when people travel before their children start the new school year, would be a banner month. However, the ‘hope of August’ has been blind-sided by bad news: the rapid spread of the H1N1 flu virus in the greater HCM City area.
At ‘The He Tre’ (Young Generation) Travel Agency, a deputy director, Dung, said his firm did not anticipate the seriousness of the flu epidemic. Dung said that the flu scare plus bad weather have sharply reduced the number of travellers between HCM City and Hanoi. Some people have chosen to travel to central Vietnam instead, especially Hue City.
Though Vietnamese travel firms have scrambled to take advantage of a Vietnam Airlines discounted domestic tickets promotion, buying tickets for resale to customers, Dung said, the flu scare causes the travel firms to worry about the business outlook over the next month.
A deputy director of Vietnamtour in Hanoi said that in some cases, when a member of a group tour was sick and canceled participation, other members also canceled the tour as well. The appearance of the flu pandemic in Hanoi has prompted people to take measures to protect themselves, in particular to avoid going to crowded places.
According to a deputy director at HaiVeNu Travel, if clients have already booked tours, they will still travel. Those who are really worried about the flu may change the departure time. Alarmingly, the number of clients booking new tours has decreased significantly.
Agents say the combination of global economic recession and swine flu have significantly reduced the number of travelers from Vietnam’s top markets (the US, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, China, Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, France, Singapore and Canada).
There were 278,000 foreigners to Vietnam in July, 16 percent less than in July 2008. Vietnam has greeted 2,172 million tourists in the last seven months, a decrease of 18.7 percent over the same period of 2008.
Traveling in the flu period: protect yourself
The Ministry of Health and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism have not issued any advisory guidance on flu-related travel limitation. Precautions are a matter of travellers’ individual discretion.
Dung of The He Moi said that travelers should not be too worried about the flu pandemic. He advises travellers to wear protective masks at airports or crowded places, avoid close contact with local residents and report to the tour guides if they have any signs of sickness.
Dung said that while foreign travel to Vietnam is ‘dead,’ domestic tourism can save the day. He has asked Vietnam Airlines to keep selling air tickets at preferential prices to travel firms until the end of the year.
Since June, Vietnam Airlines has been providing free masks to prevent transmission of H1N1 flu virus on all its international flights from HCM City. All ground staff serving international flights departing from HCM City also wear protective masks. Vietnam’s national carrier is keeping a close watch over the spread of the flu pandemic in Hanoi and other localities to make well-reasoned decisions.