With coronavirus under control, Vietnam and New Zealand see different travel trends

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Khanh Vu
LONDON / HANOI, June 26 (Reuters). Laura Douglas' tourism start-up, a farm surrounded by snow-capped mountains in southern New Zealand, attracted hundreds of mostly foreign visitors each month until the coronavirus pandemic suddenly brought them to a halt in March.
"It's like I mourned the loss of my business," said Douglas, 33, in a phone interview with Reuters, adding that she had to take a second job as a veterinarian to pay the bills during a strict ban that did that Sealing included the country's borders.
The recovery for New Zealanders who rely on tourism is likely to be slow, in stark contrast to the development of the tourism sector in Vietnam, another nation that has been hailed as a success story for corona virus containment in Asia.
Both countries are virtually virus-free and have lifted all restrictions except those for international travel. While the New Zealand tourism sector is struggling with upcoming arrivals from abroad, Vietnam has recovered according to travel data and industry members.
This is due to how much domestic tourism has filled the gap, partly due to how badly the corona virus has hit both economies. While, according to the central bank, the New Zealand economy is expected to shrink by up to 20% in the first half of the year, Vietnam has kept its annual growth target above 5%.
July is usually the peak season for travel in New Zealand, but scheduled flights are down 40% year-over-year, and many of them are canceled, according to travel analyst Cirium.
Weekly demand for Airbnb and Vrbo properties through July has decreased 55% year over year, and a recovery is unlikely by the end of this year, according to AirDNA's forward-looking bookings.
On the other side of the ocean in Vietnam, the story is very different. In July, more than 26,000 flights are expected to carry 5 million people, an increase of 16% and 24% over the previous year.
Nguyen Thi Thuy Anh, owner of a travel agency called Minh Viet Booking, says he is struggling with an increase in bookings as companies cut prices to attract local travelers.
"Many people who previously couldn't afford five-star services are using the programs to experience the services," he said, referring to the efforts of the central and provincial governments to boost mass tourism domestically.
In a country with poor rail and road infrastructure, air travel is already a popular mode of transportation, all the more so as airlines add routes and offer tickets for just 69,000 Vietnamese dong ($ 3).
A Reuters analysis of FlightRadar24's flight data shows that Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, as well as the island of Phu Quoc and the Bay of Cam Rahn - both tourist hotspots - were top destinations until mid-June after the restrictions were lifted in late April.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asks people to "experience their own garden". She called on employers to consider four-day working weeks and said the government is actively considering more holidays this year so people can travel.
On Friday, Ardern starts the country's ski season in the tourist destination Queenstown in the hope that domestic travel will get another boost.
Some New Zealanders seem to be aware of their encouragement and take weekend trips.
Overall, the demand for hotels and short-term rentals is depressed, but according to STR, an analysis company that deals specifically with the hotel industry, it continues to increase at the weekends.
However, tourism company owners say that a NZ $ 400 million (US $ 257 million) pot provided by the government to subsidize wages and other industrial costs will not be enough to solve the problem as long as foreign tourists are still blocked.
Foreigners account for around half of NZ $ 16.1 billion (US $ 10.34 billion) that tourism contributes to New Zealand's GDP, a hole economist, Peter Clough, says it will be difficult to only accommodate domestic travelers to reach.
"Whatever we do, we're not going to fill this hole just by drumming domestic travel or the Trans-Tasman bubble," he said, referring to a proposal that was touted last month to move between Australia and New Zealand enable.
For Douglas, the downturn means digging deep in her own pockets and turning as far as possible to lure local trips to her 15,000-acre farm.
"The peasant mentality is that you won't always have good seasons," she said. "At the moment kiwis will be the best gift for us and I hope they come with their rubber boots." ($ 1 = 1.5576 New Zealand dollars) (Additional reporting by James Pearson and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi editing by Frances Kerry)

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