09.06.2021, 09:10

Tourism firms turn to other businesses as they wait out the pandemic

It’s 4 am on a hot summer day. Some people are running on the deserted streets for their morning exercise. It slowly brightens as the sun rises. Today will be a very bright day amid the first heatwave of this summer.

In a small room on Bạch Đằng Street in downtown Ha Noi, the owner of Comida Ngon Florist Bui Băng Giang and her staff are already busy preparing flowers for today’s orders.

Tourism firms turn to other businesses as they wait out the pandemic

Giang (right) and her staff prepare for flower orders. Courtesy Photo of Bui Băng Giang

The fragrance of various flowers overwhelms the bustling atmosphere of the room. Each employee is lost in their work preparing dozens of sets of flowers for shipping by 6 am.

By 8 am, they finish all the morning tasks. In the afternoon, Giang has more time for her “frozen” job – managing Asia Exotica Viet Nam tourism company, one of the most popular tourism firms in Viet Nam, serving mostly Spanish-speaking customers from Spain Portugal, and South America.

She replies to emails from partners all over the world and receives future bookings.

That has been Giang’s routine since last July when her company was effectively "frozen" due to the pandemic.

“My company was among the final in the field to cut down staff numbers and close representative offices due to COVID-19,” Giang told Viet Nam News.  

Giang said flowers bring her new energy and inspiration. Courtesy Photo of Bui Băng Giang

The firm has reduced from more than 30 people in various offices throughout the country to only seven full-time and two part-time staff in Ha Noi.  

Giang said 2020 was a “black year” for most travel agencies and tourism companies when the number of foreign arrivals to Viet Nam reduced 79 percent against previous years. The number of domestic tourists reduced by 34 percent. As a result, some 95 percent of international travel agencies stopped operations, and 40-60 percent of tourism workers lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced.

“I’m among the luckiest ones who could find a new successful way for my company,” she said. “My florist’s trademark has not brought a much profit as I want, but it has somewhat won the hearts of customers in the capital.”

Giang said her cultural experience when working in tourism helped her open a new kind of flower service.

“I aim for high profile customers, who are well educated, have a special style in enjoying flowers, and have the capability to afford my service,” she said.

Giang’s shop offers fresh flowers for various purposes, such as at home on traditional festive events, the first day or middle of the lunar month, or at pagodas.

“I would like to change customers’ habit of buying fresh flowers at markets,” she said. “Now, they can just sit at home, choose a wide range of flowers online, and order.”

Most of the flowers she supplies cannot easily found in normal markets and are more popular among traditional families, like sen (lotus), ngọc lan (magnolia alba), and hoang lan (perfume tree).

In the busiest periods, she serves more than 130 orders for three consecutive days.

Giang's shop offered a flower and fruit basket. Courtesy Photo of Bui Băng Giang

Giang said she appreciated her colleagues in other tourism companies, who are hard-working, agile, and can adapt quickly to new situations.

“None of them have just sat and waited,” she said. “They have done something to survive and wait for the opportunity to come back.”

“My customers overseas still book for future periods, even next year,” she revealed. “People still want to travel as soon as they can, which means the demand for traveling is there. I think the golden day of Vietnamese tourism will return soon as we can control the pandemic.”

Like Giang, Nguyễn Đuc Trung, founder, and director of Vietview Tourism Company based in Ha Noi has been spending his energy on a new project: a recreational complex in his homeland in Cẩm Bình Commune, Cẩm Thủy District in the central province of Thanh Hóa.

Trung said he still managed the tourism company online while focusing on the new facility, which covers a total area of 2,400sq.m offering a swimming pool, recreational area for children, cafe, and food court.

At the end of May 2020, two months after inauguration, the complex was opened to the public and brought revenue to the company.

“I drew a lesson from the previous period; I cut most of the staff and kept only two staff to survive till the situation gets brighter,” he said.

Trung said he never puts all his eggs in one basket.

Trung has found a new interest in his new recreational center-back in his hometown. Courtesy Photo of Nguyễn Đuc Trung

Tourism is his passion and his priority when things get better, he said.

During this period, Trung has spent lots of time researching new fields and new investment opportunities like green agriculture, the garment industry, and farming.

A corner of Trung's Cẩm Thủy Recreational Complex. Courtesy Photo of Nguyễn Đuc Trung

“When the pandemic waves are controlled, my company will host tours that customers postponed before,” the Mường ethnicity man said.

He has run the company since 2015, which offers both inbound and outbound tours to Vietnamese customers. In the past, the company had 15 staff and a revenue of some VNĐ15-20 billion (US$651,000-868,000) each year.

Trần Văn Long, general director of Viet Media Travel Corporation, based in HCM City, has become an expert on producing masks in the past two years.

“Vietnamese customers think a mask with 3-4 layers of blue and white is a healthcare mask. But, in fact, it is not,” he said.

“A mask should satisfy criteria: prevent the virus, prevent dust and not absorb blood. Most mask producers can meet these three criteria, but the final criterion on breathability is not so easy. Our company is among very few mask producers that can produce safe masks, which people do not feel suffocated by wearing.

“When I told my staff that our tourism company would change to produce masks, all of them cried with sorrow,” he recalled. “We cried to say goodbye to tourism. Then came the first days of trading, when we were cheated a lot.”

Since then, his Vietnamese-made masks with the trademark Ecom Med have become popular inside the country and have been exported to various countries, including the US, Japan, and South Korea.

Giang, Trung, and Long are distinguished examples of agile tourism workers who are still trying their best to survive and wait for brighter days to come.

They share the same hope that all their colleagues in tourism keep working, hold on to hope, and stay ready for a glorious comeback. VNS

A view of Long's mask-producing workshop. Courtesy Photo of Trần Văn Long