When lockdowns lifted across southern Vietnam in early October, there was hope that the domestic tourism industry would be able to get back on its feet after five months of almost total shutdown.

“Right after the lockdown ended, the domestic tourism response was quite high, and everybody was so ready to get out of the house to explore different destinations as soon as possible,” Chau Nguyen, founder of Urbanist Travel, said. “We received a lot of requests for families, couples and single travelers for areas near Ho Chi Minh City.”

But, finding outlets for this demand was difficult, as provinces such as Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Binh Thuan waited to allow hotels and resorts to re-open. An even bigger issue, however, has been widespread inconsistency in pandemic-related regulations across provinces.

“One thing that we as travel agents have learned since lockdown lifted is that Covid-19 protocols are not aligned among provinces,” Chau said. “This makes handling bookings for clients very difficult, and there have been instances where a province said it would accept clients from HCMC one day, and the next day they say that arrivals from HCMC have to quarantine.”

Ken Atkinson, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board, said this inconsistency remains a huge problem.

“Provincial authorities are being told to do what they want to do, which results in a lot of different regulations between different provinces, and a lack of real determination among local authorities to re-open, because they don’t want to be held responsible if something goes wrong,” he said.

Atkinson said that he spoke to a Hanoi-based hotel general manager who attempted to enter a nearby province on a motorbike and was turned away: “There is no central repository for getting this information.”

This lack of clarity, combined with the global emergence of the Omicron variant has made it difficult for hospitality businesses to harness what demand there is for domestic travel.

“After the relatively short lockdown in 2020, demand for domestic travel almost exploded,” said Herbert Laubichler-Pichler, Managing Director of Alma Resort Cam Ranh. “However, it has been a very different story following the most recent lockdown, which was long and resulted in too many people losing their businesses and too many losing their jobs.”

In response, Laubichler-Pichler and his team have focused on ensuring stringent safety and hygiene measures, starting with every resort employee being fully vaccinated and frequently tested for Covid-19.

“We create packages and getaway experiences geared to the local market that are designed to keep guests at our resort during the entirety of their stay,” he added.

This is the model pursued in Vietnam’s extremely limited international tourism re-opening, which began in November and only includes select resorts in Phu Quoc, Quang Nam, Da Nang, Quang Ninh and Khanh Hoa. Fully vaccinated foreign tourists can visit on charter flights and stay in a ‘bubble’ while avoiding quarantine, but this has reportedly brought in fewer than 2,000 people.


While the Ministry of Health has announced that starting in 2022, fully vaccinated international arrivals will only have to undergo three days of home isolation, details regarding commercial flights and pre-arrival paperwork remain hazy.

As a result, Laubichler-Pichler believes that domestic tourism must remain a focal point for the industry.

“It’s crucial that Vietnamese hotels and resorts are resilient by focusing primarily on the domestic market,” he said. “It’s all we have had, and you have to truly appeal to the domestic market.”

Looking forward, and keeping in mind the rising number of daily Covid-19 infections nationwide, Chau believes a number of steps can be taken to support the tourism sector.

“Vaccines need to be fairer for other provinces and sped up so that locals can be more confident in welcoming domestic tourists,” she said. “All information should be aligned across provinces, as this helps travel companies prepare products properly and consistently. Otherwise, we will fall behind if we keep changing the information.”

“If people don’t know what’s going on, they’re not inclined to travel, because they don’t want to get stuck somewhere,” Atkinson added. “The hoteliers are putting on a brave face, but I think they’re surviving largely on F&B business, particularly in major cities.”

For all the current issues, however, he believes the situation will eventually change significantly.

“I think Covid-19 is going to be like the flu, and we’ll need jabs every year to make sure we’re protected, but once the majority of the population, and certainly the population that would come into contact with travelers, are vaccinated, then I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t lift the restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers,” Atkinson said. “I think, ultimately, that’s what the central government wants, but when will that happen?” [C]

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