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Phu Quoc delays reopening date to late November

By Dao Loan

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HCMC – Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province has rescheduled its reopening to November 20, 2021, Vice Chairman of Kien Giang Nguyen Luu Trung announced at a recent meeting with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Trung said the provincial Department of Tourism is drawing up a detailed reopening plan and will submit it to the People’s Committee of Kien Giang for approval on October 6.

Phu Quoc initially planned a six-month pilot program to receive international tourists who are fully vaccinated from October.

However, Kien Giang Province decided to delay the plan after detecting a new Covid cluster in the island’s An Thoi Town on September 20. 

Besides, the Covid vaccination rate in Phu Quoc remains low. As of late last week, only 35% of residents aged from 18 on the island had got their first vaccine shot and 6% were fully vaccinated. 

The provincial government stipulated that at least 90% of local residents must be fully vaccinated against Covid before Phu Quoc can receive international tourists. 

According to the plan, in the first three months of the pilot program, Phu Quoc would allow 3,000-5,000 tourists per month to enter through charter flights and then confine their movement to designated areas.

In the following three months, it would welcome 5,000-10,000 guests per month, when tourists can fly commercial flights to the island and visit more destinations there.

The tourists have to be fully vaccinated, have a Covid vaccination certificate or one proving they have recovered from Covid. They also have to undergo a Covid PCR test 72 hours prior to departure and have a negative Covid testing certificate issued in English by the authorized agencies.

In addition, foreign travelers are required to book package tours and purchase medical and travel insurance. Children under 12 have to travel with their parents or guardians that are fully vaccinated.

Seven attractions in Phu Quoc to reopen to tourists

The Tourism Department of Kien Giang has proposed reopening seven attractions in Phu Quoc under the pilot plan.

These attractions comprise the Hon Thom Cable, Safari Phu Quoc, Vinpearl’s golf course and casino, T&M Phu Quoc’s scuba diving services, Namaste’s underwater walking service and the Ngoc Hien pearl store. 

Safari Phu Quoc is one of the attractions in Phu Quoc that will join the pilot program

The department has also proposed some supporting policies in terms of migration, marketing and Covid testing for companies joining the pilot program. 

To join the pilot program, tour operators have to work out specific plans to receive and manage tourist groups to ensure Covid safety, offer quality services and strictly comply with financial and tax obligations, among others.

All the people involved in catering to tourists must be fully vaccinated, with the second dose taken at least 14 days before welcoming the tourists. They also have to join Covid-safe training courses organized by the provincial centers for disease control.

Aside from having an international travel business license, tour operators need to meet requirements such as having been operational for three years or more and having received at least 30,000 foreign visitors to Vietnam annually.

Their tourism markets must also be pre-selected by the local tourism authority for the pilot program.

As for lodging facilities, they have to be three- to five-star ones and have separate accommodation zones for international tourists to ensure the medical supervision of foreign tourists will not affect other guests. They have to set up quarantine zones and separate rooms to collect samples for Covid testing.

Expert suggests solutions for the success of the pilot program

According to Dr Nuno Ribeiro, Tourism and Hospitality Management Senior Lecturer at RMIT University, Phu Quoc is a peculiar location that can serve as a litmus test for the reopening of the tourism industry as islands are easier to control. It also has good medical facilities and has already become a famous destination for international tourists.

If this pilot scheme proves successful, Vietnam will be able to plan the partial reopening of some other areas and provinces.

Phuket in Thailand and Bali in Indonesia have already reopened their beaches to international tourists. Dr Ribeiro suggested four key lessons to be learned from these islands’ initial efforts to adjust to the “new normal of travel”.

First, it is critical to have well-qualified, trained staff in place before reopening. After months of redundancies, the attraction and retention of qualified personnel to work in tourism and hospitality should be a priority.

Second, it is extremely important to have an open and honest dialogue and cooperation between all stakeholders in the tourism industry, including the government, the airlines, hotel owners and operators, travel agents and tour operators, advisory boards and promotional entities. All stakeholders should be involved in the process of reopening from the start and allowed to provide their input.

Third, it is essential that additional financial support is given to the hospitality industry, be it in the form of tax breaks, water and electricity subsidies, debt alleviation and/or staff support.

Fourth, it is of paramount importance that good logistics are in place and the tourism and hospitality supply chain is not disrupted, as materials, supplies, food and beverage items, amenities etc. are critical for the optimal functioning of the hospitality industry. 

Overall, preparation, communication and execution will be key for the success of any tourism reopening efforts in Vietnam. In the present stage, it is better to be careful and slow with the reopening, rather than rush and risk new outbreaks and the subsequent stress on health infrastructure.

“If we can ensure good coordination between the Government and all industry stakeholders and put the necessary health and safety measures in place, I think that 2022 can see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ for Vietnam tourism,” Dr Ribeiro said. 

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