VIETNAM, January 22 –
Some tour guides have moved their tours online. VNS Photo Van Nguyễn
HÀ NỘI — More than 15,500 licensed tourist guides have been laid off for more than two years due to the pandemic and many of them have decided to leave the tourism sector for good to earn a living elsewhere, according to the ministry tourism.
Hoàng Tuấn Long, an outgoing former tour guide, said strict travel restrictions in many countries during the pandemic made him jobless for some time.
He had to accept many temporary jobs to make ends meet. Now he makes a decent living selling grilled pork and is unlikely to return to tourism.
“No matter how much I love the job, I can no longer work as a tour guide given such a volatile situation. On top of that, going back to tourism means I have to quit my current job. That is, all of my customer relationships and business expenses would be lost,” Long said.
Long noted that most of his friends and colleagues have also decided to change jobs.
They currently work as orchid gardeners, real estate brokers, or online salespeople, to name a few.
As the new jobs provide stable incomes, returning to the old seems unlikely to most former tour guides.
Tourism in Việt Nam is gradually picking up as the country has begun to enter a phase of “new normal”.
However, with a large number of tour guides leaving the profession for good, the shortage of tour guides will be a real problem for the sector when the country fully reopens to foreign tourists in the future.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, tourism is one of the sectors bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
During difficult times, 90-95% of tourism businesses had to cease operations.
Some companies have stayed afloat by changing business models, moving to other sectors or laying off staff.
Business closures have undoubtedly led to mass unemployment in the tourism sector.
In 2020, 70-80% of staff in the sector were made redundant due to financial difficulties.
In 2021, the number of full-time employees fell to a new low, representing only 25% of the number of the previous year.
About 30% of tourism workers left their jobs during the period.
The ministry fears that these former tourism workers, especially tour guides, are now getting used to their new jobs and that risk aversion will deter them from returning to tourism.
Tourism goals set after the “new normal” could be at risk due to such a labor shortage.
The ministry therefore believes that the reallocation of human resources to tourism must be put forward in order to pave the way for the full recovery of the sector. Some measures have been proposed for this purpose.
First, there is a need to study and forecast the supply and demand of human resources in tourism in order to respond in a timely manner with policies whenever imbalances between supply and demand occur.
Second, education and training must be carried out at all levels to improve the quality of human resources.
Third, employee retention policies must be in place to control labor outflows.
The ministry is also considering training additional tourism workers to take over once the sector fully recovers.
If measures are not taken soon, high-quality tourism personnel, including licensed tour guides, will be in dire shortage once tourism picks up, the ministry said.
To support struggling tour guides, the government has provided financial assistance of VNĐ 3.71 million (USD 163) to each tour guide who has lost their job during the pandemic.
As of November 2021, over VNĐ55 billion ($2.42 million) had been spent on relief.
Unfortunately, only tour guides with formal employment contracts are eligible for the relief. This means that tour guides without a contract are not beneficiaries of the support package. Therefore, they were left on their own.
“I am an independent tourist guide. I’m not a full-time employee of a company, so I don’t have a formal work contract. Meanwhile, only those with official contracts are eligible for the relief. For this reason, I hope that assistance packages will come with lower requirements so that freelancers like me can access financial aid more easily,” said freelance tour guide Nguyễn Ngọc Thắng.
However, not all tour guides have left the profession for good. Some have held on and adapted to the harsh pandemic by turning technology to their advantage and offering virtual tours.
Surprisingly, the idea of virtual tours has worked well, with online tour guides earning a decent income in tough times.
“I think the connection between tour guides and their tourists hasn’t gone away, it’s just moved to another platform. I think virtual tours are the future of the tourism industry,” said the online tourist guide Lê Hoàng.
Virtual tours, or more general digital transformation, could hold the keys to a full recovery in tourism in the future. —VNS