HANOI, March 16 (Xinhua) -- "Today is the first day Chinese tour groups are returning to our country after a three-year hiccup due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. We are so eager to welcome them and consider this a festive day," a Vietnamese tourism official said on Wednesday.
Dinh Thi Kim Hong, an official at the management board of Sa Vy Tourist Site in Mong Cai city, Quang Ninh province, told Xinhua that nearly 40 Chinese tourists have become valued guests of the northern province in particular and of Vietnam in general after crossing the Mong Cai International Border Gate on Wednesday morning.
"To better serve Chinese tourists, we have improved infrastructure, opened refresher courses for employees and publicized information about relevant fees and service charges in both Vietnamese and Chinese," she said.
According to Hong, with the return of Chinese tour groups, Mong Cai will certainly realize its target of hosting over 500,000 international arrivals among a total of 1.5 million visitors this year.
"In recent weeks, on certain days, we have received over 1,000 visitors a day, mostly domestic tourists. From now on, we will welcome more and more Chinese tourists who not only visit Mong Cai, but also Ha Long (another city in Quang Ninh, home to the world heritage site of Ha Long Bay), Hanoi and other localities," she said, adding that many Chinese tourists are big spenders.
Nguyen Ha Hai, director of Hon Gai Tours & Service Joint Stock Company's Quang Ninh branch, told Xinhua on Tuesday that weeks before the return of Chinese tour groups to Vietnam starting on March 15, his company had actively worked with Chinese partners to make tour packages most suitable to Chinese guests who tend to spend lavishly in Quang Ninh.
"More and more Chinese people like to tour golf courses in Quang Ninh, although the cost of such tours is not very low," Hai said, noting that a six-day tour costs each Chinese tourist 18-20 million Vietnamese dong (762-847 U.S. dollars).
Like tourism officials and travel companies in Quang Ninh, local authorities, tour operators, hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops in many other provinces and cities across Vietnam have also been eager to welcome Chinese tourists back.
Lai Minh Duy, general director of TST Tourist Service & Trading Corporation in Ho Chi Minh City, said his firm has designed tours targeting big-spending Chinese customers such as those staying at four or five-star hotels and cruising the Saigon River, or visiting the Central Highlands region when coffee trees bloom.
"TST Tourist focuses on tapping the mid- and high-end tourist segments, serving high-spending customers who are willing to pay for high-quality services and products," he said.
Similarly, other tourism firms in Ho Chi Minh City like VGI Travel are offering tours targeting Chinese guests. A major destination is the city itself, with hotels and restaurants specially designed to serve Chinese visitors.
The other destinations are Nha Trang city in Khanh Hoa province, Da Lat city in Lam Dong province, Phan Thiet city in Binh Thuan province, or Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang province.
"China's resumption of tour groups visiting Vietnam on March 15 is a very good signal for tourism in Ho Chi Minh City as well as the whole country. With our well-planned strategies and plans designated for Chinese tourists, the city's target of welcoming some 5 million foreign visitors this year is totally attainable," Nguyen Thi Anh Hoa, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism, told reporters on Tuesday.
Hoang Ha, owner of seafood restaurant Lang Ghe Bien (Sea Crab Village) in the central city of Da Nang, told Xinhua on Tuesday that in preparing for welcoming back Chinese tourists, he was recruiting more staff, and building an agarwood shop adjacent to the restaurant.
"Chinese tourists to Da Nang like eating fresh seafood. They don't hesitate to spend a lot on lobsters or crabs. They also love agarwood," he said, adding, "more Chinese coming back means festive days for me."
His statement was echoed by Cao Tri Dung, head of the Da Nang Tourism Association, who said, "Chinese tourists often stay at a luxury hotel for a long period of time, and they are very willing to spend on shopping, dining and entertainment."
In 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Da Nang received over 800,000 Chinese visitors, more than one-fifth of the total international arrivals to the city, Dung said, who expected more and more Chinese tourists will come to Vietnam, especially to coastal localities in summer.
Not only Vietnamese coastal localities, but also northern border provinces are eager to receive Chinese tour groups again. The two northern border provinces of Lang Son and Lao Cai have been prepared for days to receive the first Chinese tour groups to visit their localities on Wednesday afternoon, three years after the disruptions because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The return of Chinese visitors to Vietnam is expected to help boost its economy, said experts and firms.
According to Vietnamese economic expert Can Van Luc, the return of Chinese tourists, who account for some 32 percent of the total number of visitors to Vietnam, will help increase the country's international tourism revenues by 8 percent to 10 percent this year.
The return of increasing numbers of Chinese tourists will "notably contribute to the growth of Vietnam's tourism, which can be a key sector for Vietnam in 2023, offsetting the decline in trading and manufacturing," the HSBC said in its latest report.
In 2019, China was Vietnam's biggest source of foreign visitors with 5.8 million arrivals.
Vietnam is expected to realize targets of welcoming 8 million international arrivals and 102 million domestic visitors, with total tourism revenues to reach 650 trillion Vietnamese dong (27.5 billion dollars) this year, according to many participants in an online conference on tourism development. ■