Kien Giang is one of the major tourist centers in the Mekong Delta, with Phu Quoc Island being an ideal destination for domestic and foreign tourists. Therefore, right from the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, the local tourism industry actively coordinated with other sectors to prevent the contagion from spreading with tourism activity and ensure safety for visitors and residents. To understand more about these efforts, Vietnam Business Forum’s correspondent had an interview with Mr. Tran Chi Dung, Director of Kien Giang Tourism Department. Duy Anh reports.
Could you please briefly portray the picture of Kien Giang tourism in recent years?
In 2016 - 2019, all major annual tourism results exceeded their initial targets. International and domestic tourist arrivals to Kien Giang increased steadily. The province’s tourism revenue topped the Mekong Delta region. The position of Kien Giang tourism was increasingly confirmed on the tourist map of the Mekong Delta region and the whole country.
Besides, Phu Quoc is a favored destination chosen by domestic and foreign tourists. In recent years, Kien Giang tourism sector enjoyed continuous growth and extensive diversity to become one of the most important economic sectors. From 2016 to 2019, its contribution to the province's GDP kept increasing year by year.
In 2020, if the COVID-19 epidemic had not broken out nor natural disasters occurred (drought and saline intrusion), Kien Giang province would have welcomed an increasing number of tourist arrivals in the first months. Kien Giang aimed to welcome 9.3 million visitors in the year, up from 6.3% a year earlier, including 750,000 international visitors, up 5.1%. Tourism revenue would exceed over VND20,000 billion, an increase of 7.8%.
The COVID-19 epidemic has been an unprecedented challenge to service business, especially for tourism, in recent decades. So, how has the COVID-19 epidemic affected the Kien Giang tourism sector?
Since the outbreak, the tourism industry has proactively coordinated with other sectors to prevent and control COVID-19. Tourism businesses strictly complied with instructions from health authorities and administrative agencies to ward off the plague. However, due to COVID-19 development, tourism was seriously hurt.
The province currently has 768 hotels with 24,111 rooms. In the first quarter of 2020, tourist arrivals decreased by 39.5% year on year and reached 48.9% of the first quarter growth scenario. Room occupancy was only 37.8%, down 27.8% from a year-ago period. According to statistics, about 50% of hotels (300 - 350 units) temporarily ceased operation, more than a quarter of labor (7,000 - 8,000 laborers) were laid off.
Also in the March quarter of 2020, travel activity served over 30,000 passengers, down 72.1% from the same period in 2019. International visitor arrivals sank by 65.1% year on year. Following the general policy of the government, all travel businesses temporarily suspended operations to prevent the epidemic contagion. The total damage was estimated at over VND2,309 billion, including the economic damage of about VND1,892 billion in the international tourist segment, down 41.5% and the economic loss of VND417 billion, down 22.9%. To date, only about 50% of operating hotels are serving customers, mainly foreign tourists.
Given that hardship, what solutions has Kien Giang tourism industry taken to revive itself from the epidemic?
In response to drastic directions of the Government and central authorities, Kien Giang province has carried out firm and consistent solutions to control and prevent the epidemic and ensure safety for people and tourists.
Currently, the Kien Giang Tourism Department is responding to the Vietnamese tour Vietnam Program launched by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the domestic tourist stimulus program organized by the Vietnam Tourism to restore Vietnam tourism in general and local tourism in particular.
To revive the tourism economy after the epidemic, the tourism industry of Kien Giang province will work with the Investment, Tourism and Trade Promotion Center to develop and launch destination promotion programs and plans and tour connections in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Central Region and Mekong Delta. The sector is preparing programs and plans to reconnect international tourist markets, including traditional markets (such as China, South Korea, Russia, Sweden, the United States, Germany, Australia, Malaysia and Eastern European countries) when the world announces the end of the epidemic, studying target and potential markets, developing reasonable promotion strategies to stimulate tourism demand in some other countries; restructuring, reallocating and diversifying international tourist markets.
The Kien Giang tourism industry has also focused on developing and carrying out the tourism stimulus programs, with focus placed on stimulus packages and discount offers for domestic tourists; coordinated with local authorities to call for businesses and investors to build and develop new tourism products for each region; consolidated and renewed existing products to improve service quality. The sector has also sped up the early completion of tourism infrastructure investment projects and ongoing projects invested by the Tourism Department to serve the sectoral growth in the future.
To facilitate the recovery and growth of Kien Giang tourism after the epidemic, do you have any suggestions and recommendations to leaders of all levels?
To revive and develop Kien Giang tourism after the epidemic, I proposed that the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism support Kien Giang to accelerate promotions through online media, internal and external channels; formulate large-scale domestic and foreign promotion programs and plans right after the end of the epidemic. For its part, the Provincial People’s Committee should direct relevant agencies to facilitate the early implementation of support policies for workers and businesses, including tourism businesses. The province necessarily has supportive and preferential policies for tourism schools to raise skills and performance for tourism workers according to the Vietnam Tourism Occupational Standards. The province should have support policies for tourism businesses participating in domestic and international tourism promotion programs and waive fees for administrative procedures of granting, renewing, replacing international and domestic travel business licenses and tourist guide certificates in 2020.
In addition, the Provincial People’s Committee needs to direct the Investment, Trade and Tourism Promotion Center to develop tourism stimulus programs, destination promotion plans and tour connections; research markets and reconnect international and domestic markets as soon as the end of the epidemic is announced. At the same time, I proposed the Prime Minister consider facilitating international visitors to Phu Quoc (e.g. visa waiver under Decision 80/QD-TTg) to visit Rach Gia City, Ha Tien City and Kien Hai District to create a driving force for sustainable tourism development.
Source: Vietnam Business Forum