2019 for the tourist industry in Vietnam was record breaking, attracting 18 million foreign tourists and generating VND720 trillion (approx £22.9 billion, US$30.8 billion) of income.
Hopes were high that 2020 would be even better. A target of 20 million foreign tourists and VND809 trillion (approx £26 billion, US$30.8 billion) got off to an excellent start with 2 million tourists in January alone, an increase of almost 33% on 2019.
The increasing health crisis in China was soon to take an adverse effect however.
Vietnam was used to the fight against pandemics and quickly implemented emergency measures in the battle against coronavirus.
In late January the decision was made to suspend all flights from Covid-19 affected areas of China, the biggest single source of foreign tourists to Vietnam.
In February visa-free travel from the second largest market for Vietnam, South Korea were suspended.
They avoided the strict complete lockdown, lasting weeks, if not months, seen in many countries, instead they concentrated on local lockdowns whenever cases emerged.
Local lockdowns were however key. In Son Loi more than 10,000 people entered a full lockdown on February 13th lasting until 4th March, after 6 local cases. The largest local lockdown took place from March 17th to April 14th in Van Lam 3 Village which affected 145,000 in the local area. Some localised lockdowns were much smaller. Truc Bac Street in Hanoi was in lockdown from March 6th to 20th and affected just 190 people.
Flights from the majority of Europe, including the UK, were suspended on 15th March, with no visas issued shortly after for travel from elsewhere. By 22nd March Vietnam had effectively closed its borders with all international flights suspended and land crossings closed.
Non-essential services were shut down nationwide from 1st April with restrictions on movement but this lasted just 15 days for most of the country, extended to 21 days in certain areas.
As restrictions were lifted at the end of April tourist destinations started to see an increase in numbers. The domestic tourism drive was so popular that many destinations were packed each weekend.
Vietnam had not recorded a Covid-19 case for almost 100 days when out of nowhere cases were recorded in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Hoi An.
The first cases were reported in Da Nang followed soon after by the first death in the country, a 70 year old man from Hoi An with underlying health conditions.
More than 80,000 people were evacuated out of Da Nang, always a popular destination for the Vietnamese. Cases elsewhere in the country were linked to the outbreak in Da Nang. Da Nang and Hoi An were both under lockdown for a month.
The domestic tourist market was impacted hard as revenues fell 62% in August compared to July. Many tourist destinations were closed and confidence in safe travel was dented even though Vietnam again demonstrated its efficient and effective control of the virus.
A series of massive storms and typhoons then hit the central regions of the country as flooding, landslides and wind damage resulted in at least 192 people losing their lives and an economic impact of more than VND30 trillion (approx £968 million, US$1.3 billion).
Hoi An was flooded on numerous occasions, Hue also suffered flooding and Da Nang had serious damage especially along the coastline. The Central Highlands area has also been extensively hit by the storms.
There are fears that the Covid pandemic has resulted in a loss of US$23 billion (£17.2 billion) of tourist revenue in 2020. Estimates predict that international tourist numbers for 2020 will be 80% down on 2019 and domestic tourists will have fallen by 50%.
Vietnam continues to win the war against Covid-19. However prospects of the country re-opening to foreign tourists any time soon look slim as they continue to keep borders closed to protect the country from the infection. The country is looking at introducing a Green Lane with Vietnam to help business but, as yet, there have been no indications of the country opening up further.
Main picture credit Arkady Lukashov on Unsplash
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