Authorities and businesses in the southern province of Kien Giang expect to welcome foreign visitors to the resort island of Phu Quoc in this year-end peak season when the vaccination scheme for its residents is set to be completed at the end of September.
The move came after Politburo gave the green light for piloting a Covid-19 vaccine passport program in late June as the island is one of the best vacation spots in Vietnam that have successfully contained the pandemic.
The Kien Giang Province People’s Committee has asked the Ministry of Health to allow foreign arrivals who have Covid-19 vaccination certificates to visit Phu Quoc Island, especially with priorities given to tourists from Russia as they accounted for the majority of tourists to the island during the pre-pandemic period.
Under the pilot program, the Russian arrivals to Phu Quoc would have to comply with requirements under a closed tourism model including flying in on charter flights, staying at sequestered resorts, and restricting movement. The authorities will review and select accommodation establishments meeting Covid-19 pandemic countermeasures.
Philippe Le Bourhis, General Manager of Mövenpick Resort Waverly Phu Quoc, told The Hanoi Times that this is great news for the tourism industry. “The pilot test is a first step to reopen for international tourism, with some charter flights from several countries.”
Previously, it was one of the first local businesses operating in the tourism industry that proposed the resumption of the inbound market with the trial of vaccine passports for Phu Quoc.
He added after the reopening of destinations such as the Maldives a few months ago and Phuket of Thailand in July, it is a great opportunity to showcase Phu Quoc to the world as the upcoming destination in South East Asia.
“Thanks to this highlight, we hope to get more direct flights from key cities around the world to support the growth of the destination,” he added.
Mövenpick Resort Waverly Phu Quoc has made its preparation plan for the reopening. “The facility is following Accor’s global safety and sanitation label, ALLSafe, which was co-created with Bureau Veritas and leading medical authorities. This will ensure we follow best practices in terms of cleanliness and safety,” he said.
Colin McCandless, Area General Manager of IHG Hotels & Resorts happily told The Hanoi Times that the Phu Quoc pilot will mark a positive step towards reopening to international travelers.
“We are confident that Vietnam’s booming tourism industry will return - history has shown us this before. We know there’s pent-up demand for travel when people can do so again - looking at the Maldives when they reopened to international travelers, Russia was one of their top feeder markets,” he said.
To reopen the inbound market this year as expected, the provincial authorities have proposed the implementation of the Covid-19 vaccination for 100,000 residents before September. The vaccination plan needs an estimated 220,000 doses and about 16-18 weeks for completion.
Chairman of Phu Quoc District People's Committee Huynh Quang Hung said tourism is a key economic sector of Phu Quoc and Kien Giang province. The local economic growth was about 25%-30% on average before the pandemic broke out in Vietnam.
He said Phu Quoc previously received nearly 3,000,000 visitors per year, now it has reduced by more than 95%. Most accommodation, dining, and entertainment service establishments have temporarily suspended operations due to a lack of guests. Travel and transport companies have also stopped operating, affecting other activities such as the production and consumption of agricultural and seafood products.
“Local authorities and people expect to have vaccines as soon as possible,” Hung said.
A number of destinations in the region such as Thailand's Puket or Indonesia's Bali have been opening up to tourism. If we are slow, we will lose the opportunity to welcome international visitors to Phu Quoc,” he added.
Bourhis from Mövenpick Resort Waverly Phu Quoc said the most urgent need right now is to accelerate the vaccination deployment in Vietnam so that the residents feel safe welcoming visitors.
“Actions to rebuild confidence will be crucial in the short term. Safety, security, and hygiene will be key factors in driving confidence for domestic and international travelers,” he said.
Mauro Gasparotti, Director of Savills Hotels APAC said though the Phu Quoc initiative could be very interesting, there are many points to be finalized before implementing the plan, for example, whether Phu Quoc is the best option to start or there are other locations to be considered.
Another discussion could be on the impact of this program on the local tourism of Phu Quoc. He raised the concern with The Hanoi Times: “Would the domestic travelers (who have not been vaccinated) avoid the destination due to risk of infection? For example, in Thailand, domestic travelers will be requested to take a Covid-19 test before departing to Phuket and this could lead to a negative impact on the local demand.”
Phu Quoc has prepared for welcoming back to foreign tourists in recent times but was still behind Thailand's Phuket.
Now, as July comes, Vietnam needs to promote the launch of the pilot scheme for Phu Quoc more quickly and effectively, making it a model of destination competitiveness. If not, the country may miss the opportunity for the recovery of the tourism industry as well as the capacity to compete with other countries in the region.