An agarwood shop near the Tuan Chau tourist area in Ha Long, home to the world famous eponymous bay, was once popular with Chinese tourists before the pandemic. But it’s been closed for a while.
Some other stores are experiencing the same fate.
Although Vietnam reopened international tourism in mid-March, Chinese visitors have yet to be able to travel abroad as China persists with its zero-Covid policy, including lockdowns and restrictions entry requirements.
A store specializing in the sale of agarwood products for Chinese tourists in Ha Long city is closed at the end of August 2022. Photo by Le Tan
Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh, which borders China, has long been a favorite destination for Chinese visitors.
Without Chinese tourists, local cruise lines suffered heavy damage.
“Before Covid-19, 70% of my customers were Chinese and we made four to five trips a day,” said Pham Tham, operator of the Tung Duong tourist boat service.
“However, there is only one boat trip carrying domestic tourists on normal days and the boats stand idle the rest of the time,” Tham said.
Van Cuong, who owns two tourist boats in Ha Long, said September to the end of the year is the busy international tourist season in Ha Long, but business is slow.
In 2019, Ha Long welcomed 2.9 million international visitors and 60% of them came from China.
More than a thousand kilometers south of Ha Long, the seaside town of Nha Trang has also been hit hard by the shortage of Chinese and Russian tourists.
The escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian war since March has prompted countries to close their airspace and suspend international flights. Due to travel restrictions, there are almost no Russian tourists in Nha Trang at the moment.
Some restaurants and hotels in downtown Nha Trang have closed or are simply deserted.
According to a survey by VnExpressdowntown rents before the pandemic reached hundreds of millions per month (1 million VND equivalent to $43).
Although rents have fallen by more than 60%, there are no tenants and many restaurants and hotels are deserted.
Foreign tourists walk past the deserted backpacker area in Nha Trang. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Toan
In 2019, Nha Trang welcomed more than 3.5 million international visitors, mainly from China and Russia.
At the time, Cam Ranh International Airport handled more than 30 flights daily from China and six charter flights from Russia.
Hoai, a restaurant owner in Nha Trang, said he cleaned his restaurant last summer in hopes of welcoming tourists again during the peak summer season.
However, business was not as good as expected and he had to close the restaurant to cut costs.
Vietnam has allowed quarantine-free entry and resumed its pre-pandemic visa-free policy for 24 tourist markets from mid-March with a maximum stay of 15 to 30 days.
So far this year, the country has welcomed 1.44 million foreign tourists, just 28 percent of the annual target of five million.
Restaurant and hotel owners in Nha Trang and Ha Long are desperately waiting for visitors from China and Russia and some have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.
“China is still closing its border due to Covid-19 and we don’t know when tourism activities between the two countries will return to normal,” Cuong said.
“We were really stressed as the domestic tourism season passed and all the boats stood idle,” Cuong said.
Nguyen Thi Le Thanh, director of the tourism department of Khanh Hoa, said India is one of the most potential tourism markets after the pandemic and the new source of Indian visitors could be a temporary solution in the absence Chinese and Russian tourists.
But Thanh said it would take more time and better preparation to tap into the Indian market effectively.
Ha Long is also looking for ways to diversify tourist markets with an eye on India.
Last month, more than 200 Indian tourists visited Ha Long Bay and other attractions in Quang Ninh.