Thousands of shops and other businesses have been forced to down their shutters.
The number of domestic visitors has begun rising, especially on weekends, after the nation’s third Covid-19 outbreak began on January 28 after a 55-day clean streak. However, many shops in the town have boards put up, announcing discounts of up to 50 percent, “liquidation sales”, and many shops remain vacant without foreign visitors.
“Our shop used to earn millions of VND (VND1 million=$43.1) per day before the pandemic, because it has good reviews on TripAdvisor (popular travel website). Foreign tourists love to buy souvenirs at our shop. Now we cannot even earn several hundred thousand VND a day,” said Ly, who runs shop selling silk scarves and ties in Hoi An’s Tran Phu Street.
She spoke while packing up her belongings to return the 25 square meter space to her landlord on the morning of March 28. She had rented the place since 2013 and was paying a monthly rent of VND30 million.
She tried to sell off the shop’s inventory before shutting down the. Ties that used to sell for $6 were sold at VND50,000. Scarves that previously fetched $13-15 each were being sold for just VND80,000-100,000 ($3.4-4.3). However, the shop only managed to attract a few Vietnamese customers on weekends.
Souvenir shops, stores selling suits and other garments, leather products and coffee shops neighbouring Ly’s shop have remained closed since last year.
The landlord of a shophouse on Tran Phu Street said that he has been searching for leasers since last November, but has not been able to find anyone, despite reducing the rent by half.
A few blocks away from Ly’s shop is a fashion shop named Sunday Boutique, which is selling all of its items at half price to end its lease and close the shop. It can no longer pay the monthly rent of VND80 million.
According to a VnExpress survey conducted on March 28, over 70 stores are closing down on Tran Phu street and over 90 have shut down on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, the two streets used to be part of the busy pedestrian zone in Hoi An.
Some shops on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, which used to sell paintings, leather products and luxury jewellery, are closed now, and have places for street food vendors to sell Che (Vietnamese Sweet Soup), Cao Lau (Vietnamese Thick Noodles), and Quang noodles.
On Bach Dang Street that runs alongside the Hoai River, only a few coffee shops and Western-style restaurants are still opening. However, they have had to change their whole menu and prices to suit Vietnamese customers.
An upscale restaurant located on the side of Hoai River, which previously served foreigners mainly has reduced the number of dishes it serves to 18, the majority of which are local dishes like chicken with rice, Cao Lau, Banh Uot (steamed rice rolls), or noodles with grilled meat skewers.
“The restaurant has stopped buying expensive ingredients and beef for beef steak. The only Western dishes served are spaghetti and hamburger,” a waiter said.
Vietnamese visitors to Hoi An Town only help improve the business situation in homestays and hotels during weekends.
The receptionist of a homestay called Volar Hoi An on Phan Dinh Phung street said that the occupancy rate at weekends was around 90 percent, but only two to four rooms are occupied during weekdays. The homestay used to be filled with foreigners before Covid-19 struck.
Located on the other side of the Phan Dinh Phung Street, opposite to Volar Hoi An, is a three-star hotel with 40 rooms that closed down at the end of 2020, unable to cover its overheads.
Lai, who works for the Cozy Savvy Boutique Hotel on Hoi An’s Dao Duy Tu Street, said she was the only maid left in the hotel. Last year, the hotel had to temporarily close twice and reduce the number of employees. Now it has just one employee for each department.
“I only have a few rooms to serve during the weekends, but I am still luckier than my friends who work for around ten days a month to earn VND1.5 million.”
Nhat Anh, a boatman on the Hoai River, said that there are days that he makes no trip. “Earlier, a passenger paid VND40,000-50,000 for a trip. Now I only charge VND10,000 per person, but even then, I can only get a few trips during weekends,” he said.
He said around 20 percent of the boats on the Hoai River have stopped sailing since there are no passengers.
“Other boatmen and I have no choice but continue with our job amid the pandemic and hope that tourism will soon recover.”
Quang Nam Province’s tourism revenues dropped 82 percent year-on-year in 2020 to over VND1 trillion, according to the General Statistics Office.
The central province, where Hoi An is located, is studying the possibility of welcoming international visitors from countries that have contained the pandemic on charter flights and unscheduled flights that are not part of the regular, commercial airline routes.