The number of foreign tourists in Vietnam reached an all-time high of 18 million in 2019, while the tourism industry took in VND720 trillion ($30.8 billion). For 2020, the government had set a target of receiving 20 million foreign visitors, with an expected industry revenue of $35 billion.
The country saw about two million foreign visitors in January, up 32.8 percent from a year earlier, before expectations were dashed when Covid-19 hit Vietnam on Jan. 23.
Starting in late January, Vietnam's Civil Aviation Administration suspended all flights to and from areas in China affected by the coronavirus and stopped issuing visas to visitors from those locations. China was Vietnam's largest feeder tourism market with nearly 4.8 million arrivals in 2019.
The government also canceled many flights to South Korea, the country's second-largest tourism market, in late February and suspended visa-free travel for South Koreans to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The situation worsened in March when many Vietnamese nationals returning from the U.S. and Europe were infected with the virus along with foreigners coming from the same countries. This prompted authorities to impose a three-week social distancing campaign on April 1 and suspend all international flights.
All popular tourist destinations and other entertainment venues in the country, including bars and karaoke parlors, were closed, and people were asked to stay home and not gather in large crowds.
At the end of April, tourist hotspots were allowed to reopen, although the country remained closed to foreign visitors. Due to the strict restrictions on international travel, the tourism industry has turned to boosting domestic tourism.
Thanks to efficient Covid-19 controls, Vietnam's tourist hotspots were crowded with throngs of local tourists on weekends.
However, the sector stalled again when the first local case of infection occurred in Da Nang on July 25, ending a 99-day streak without transmission in the municipality.
Many places closed their tourist attractions and deployed anti-pandemic measures to contain the spread of infection domestically. The popular Da Nang, home to many famous beaches, and Quang Nam, known for the UNESCO cultural site of Hoi An, then became the country's biggest coronavirus hotspots, both being closed for more than a month.
Historic flooding in central Vietnam again put the brakes on the tourism industry. Between early October and mid-November, the central region and parts of the central highlands were hit by a series of storms that brought torrential rains and caused severe flooding and landslides.
At least 192 people were killed and 57 missing, with losses totaling VND30 trillion ($1.3 billion), which the government said was "the worst damage in decades."
Popular tourist spots in central Vietnam such as Hue, Hoi An and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province were inundated by floodwaters and closed to tourists.
Vietnam could lose $23 billion in tourism revenue this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, equivalent to about 75 percent of last year's industry revenue, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien told the National Assembly last month.
Due to the closure of borders and suspension of flights, Vietnam welcomed 3.8 million visitors in the January-November period, down 76.6 percent year-on-year, while total tourism revenue is estimated at VND16.6 trillion ($722 million), down 59 percent year-on-year.
So far, Vietnam has gone more than three weeks without community transmission, following a mini-outbreak in HCMC with four locally transmitted cases, triggered by a Vietnam Airlines flight attendant who violated quarantine regulations.
Thanks to strict quarantine and contact tracing measures, Vietnam has managed to keep Covid-19 in check with only 1,432 infections and 35 deaths.