Tourism reopens, but staff shortage persists
In early April, a group of 12 Vietnamese travelers left for Dubai. This was the first outbound tour organized by Viet Media Travel after two years of interruption because of the Covid-19 pandemic. On that day, many workers at the company, from tour guides to managers, burst into tears when they realized they had successfully organized the tour.
However, only 20 percent of the workers of the company could witness the success. The other 80 percent had quit their jobs and shifted to other business to earn a living.
“The two-year period was too long. The tour guides worked twice as hard because we missed this work a lot,” said Pham Phuong Anh, Deputy CEO of Viet Media Travel, at a recent workshop discussing human resources after Covid-19.
Nguyen Hoang Anh Phi, CEO of Thien Hong Hotel, said at the workshop that his firm lacks 30 percent of personnel. Because of the long closure, his workers left to take other jobs. Others hesitated to come back to work as they felt insecure about their future as pandemic developments are unpredictable.
Deputy Director of the HCM City Tourism Department Bui Thi Ngoc Hieu said that a lack of workers is a big problem for the tourism industry for now. This is attributed to the transfer of labor sources among industries and localities amid the disruption of the tourism business chain. It is estimated that 80 percent of the workforce in the tourism industry has left.
Nguyen Quy Phuong, Director of the Travel Department of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), said Covid-19 has had an impact on 2.5 million workers, including 800,000 direct workers in the industry. The subjects that suffered most from the pandemic are tour guides, workers for accommodation establishments, attractions, travel firms, transport, and tourism boats.
A report found that there were 5 million tourists during the four-day April-May holiday, including 2 million tourists who stayed at accommodation establishments, while turnover reached VND22 trillion. Just within one month of reopening, from March 15 to April 15, the number of foreign travelers to Vietnam reached 41,000.
The data from Google’s market trend tracker showed a rapid increase in the number of searches about Vietnam tourism since the day of officially reopening.
As of March 1, the number of international searches about accommodations in Vietnam had increased by 27 percent compared with the same period last year. The figures had soared to 40 percent by mid-March and 115 percent as of early April 2022, which showed bright prospects for the tourism industry this year.
However, analysts warned that the sharp increase in the number of tourists during holidays, summer holidays and international travel season at the end of the year will put pressure on localities where the workforce remains a problem.
Tu Minh Thien, Rector of Van Hien University, said the long April-May holiday revealed some negative things that dissatisfied tourists, including poor facilities and services.
Hot attractions such as Phu Quoc, Nha Trang and Ba Ria – Vung Tau reopened resorts, hotels and accommodation establishments, but there were few associated services, while in some places, workers were not professional.
He said Vietnam needs to learn from Thailand, which knows what to do to make tourists spend money and stay longer in the country. The key is in the professional services provided, and diverse tourism products which raise curiosity.
Van Hien University is joining forces with tourism companies to organize a business semester to shorten the gap between theory and practical training. Students will spend 3-6 months on an internship, and travel firm directors will give marks to students.
Nguyen Ngoc Tan, CEO of Saco Travel, said his business is cooperating with training establishments to prepare qualified workers. If students are good at theory but bad at practice, a worker shortage will continue.
In the immediate time, according to Phi, travel firms can use one worker for many tasks to deal with the labor shortage, but this is just a temporary solution. In the long term, travel firms need to apply reasonable wages, and offer healthcare and training to retain former workers and attract new ones.
Phuong of VNAT suggested that localities and travel firms set a policy to attract workers who left during the pandemic. At the same time, they need to figure out training plans to attract new workers, especially local people.