Although Vietnam has temporarily closed the border to international visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic since 2020, Le Hoang, a 28-year-old tour guide in Hanoi, still take foreign travelers to discover the capital city and other places in Vietnam, through a special tool of the 4.0 era: the mobile phone screen.
New form of touring
|Starting with some online classes to teach foreigners to make Vietnamese coffee, the Hanoi tour guide builds them up into professional online tours themed Hanoi. Photo: Zing News|
Graduating from Hanoi Open University, Hoang was doing quite well as a tour guide serving incoming travelers until the outbreak of the disease. “The business was good by then. I was very busy and never thought that I would be unemployed,” he said.
From being out every day, the time of staying home in the lockdown was traumatic for Hoang, who was left without a job and income with an uncertain future. Fortunately, an old customer commissioned him tours online.
Since then, Hoang began offering online tours for foreigners wanting to visit Vietnam but was unable to do so given the pandemic. He invested in some professional equipment such as a noise-reduction microphone, tripod, and a phone with a good camera. He also researched itineraries, which are suitable for online experience.
|The Hoan Kiem Lake in an early Autumn. Photo: Khanh Huy|
His first tours take visitors to tourist sites related to the culture and history of Hanoi. From 7am, he rides a motorbike to Ly Thai To garden downtown to start guiding. For about 45 minutes to an hour, he walks around the iconic Hoan Kiem Lake of Hanoi and shows visitors online the Turtle Tower and red The Huc Bridge before touring the Old Quarters where he explains to visitors about old trade streets and ancient houses, telling them historical and cultural stories linked to the places of the millenary capital city.
“International visitors are curious and excited to see Hanoi people living in deep alleys, utility posts with bunches of entangled electric wires, and street vendors on both sides of the road,” he said.
The last stop of the tour is a coffee shop on Nguyen Huu Huan Street. This is where he shows his customers how the local cafes look like, as well as talking with them and answering their questions.
|Le Hoang (Jude) makes a tour around Hanoi's iconic Hoan Kiem Lake and surrounding area. Photo: Zing News|
On another tour, he takes tourists to visit “the French quarter” where French architecture buildings and houses from the colonial period still remain, before visiting other sites such as the Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison, or Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Museums and pagodas are offered on another tour. Besides Hanoi, Hoang also provides online tours to other cities and provinces such as Danang City, Hoi An Ancient Town, Nha Trang Beach City, Yen Bai province with its magnificent rice terrace of Mu Cang Chai and Ha Giang Province.
“The core value of my product is to introduce the beautiful scenery of Vietnam. Therefore, I always try to find places with typical landscapes for my online tours,” Hoang shared.
Before the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hit Vietnam, Hoang usually carry out about ten tours per week. His clients mainly come from Europe, the US, and Canada. He also offered private tours for organizations, training centers, and schools, which are customized following their request in terms of time and schedule, from sightseeing to culinary discovery and so on.
|Inside Hoa Lo Prison Relic in Hanoi. Photo: An Khang|
Pioneering the tourism modality, Hoang has to deal with multiple challenges. Many times, police or people on the street interrupted the tour out of curiosity. It also took him a few months to get used to talking in front of the phone camera, seemingly alone, regardless of people’s gaze or saying.
“In fact, many people are curious to see me walking in the same place every day while talking on the phone, so they usually come and ask. But I have to try to focus on the tour and minimize communication with them,” he said. “I often go with my wife, who also works in the tourism industry, to support me.”
Another difficulty of the online tour is that Hoang has to talk continuously in one or one-and-a-half hours, instead of taking a break sometimes when leading physical tours. Moreover, there is a big income gap between the two tourism modalities, though the workload is the same.
Earnings from an online tour are higher. The bigger the number of customers and tours of a day, the better the income. “The more I work, the more I earn. I’m totally active in my job, it’s a good thing,” he said.
|A French-style house in Hanoi's Old Quarter Area. Photo: Xuan Son|
Another advantage of online tours is the flexible time, usually a few hours a day, compared to the whole day or even a few days of in-person tours, Hoang added.
“I feel lucky to be able to maintain my work as a tour guide, build relationships with foreign customers and earn income, in the context that the tourism industry is facing tough times everywhere and many of my co-workers lost their jobs. The online tour is suitable for survival during this time,” he stated.
Feeling sorry for his colleagues who have to quit their jobs to others like a real estate agent or insurance sales, Hoang expects that they could try his online tour model to keep their skills and experiences.
Hoang is submitting a project to the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism to develop the online tour category.
“At least, I hope that this model will spread widely to become a livelihood to thousands of tour guides who lost their jobs. Online tours are a good way to support traditional tourism, which is seriously affected during the pandemic,” he said.