Over 15,500 licensed tour guides have been put out of work for more than two years due to the pandemic and many of them have decided to leave the tourism sector permanently to earn a living elsewhere.
Some tour guides have moved their tours online.
Hoang Tuan Long, a former outbound tour guide, said strict travel restrictions in numerous countries during the pandemic had rendered him jobless for some time.
He has had to take up many temporary jobs to make ends meet. Now, he is making a decent living as grilled pork seller and unlikely to return to tourism.
"No matter how much I love the job, I cannot work as a tour guide any longer given such a volatile situation. On top of that, returning to tourism means I have to quit my current job. That's to say all my customer relations and business outlay would go down the drain,” Long said.
Long noted that most of his friends and colleagues had decided to change jobs as well.
They are currently working as orchid gardeners, real estate brokers or online sellers, to name a few.
As the new jobs provide stable incomes, going back to the old one seems implausible for most former tour guides.
Viet Nam's tourism is gradually picking up as the country has begun to enter a "new normal" phase.
However, with a large number of tour guides leaving the profession for good, tour guide shortages 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 full brunt of the pandemic.
During the tough times, 90-95 per cent of tourism firms have had to cease operation.
Some firms stayed afloat by changing business models, moving to different sectors or shedding staff.
Firm closures, undoubtedly, have led to mass unemployment in the tourism sector.
In 2020, 70-80 per cent of staff in the sector were made redundant on the grounds of financial difficulties.
In 2021, the number of full-time staff fell to a new low, equalling just 25 per cent of the previous year's number.
About 30 per cent of tourism workers quit their jobs during the period.
The ministry is concerned that these former tourism workers, especially tour guides, might get used to their new jobs now and risk aversion would put them off returning to tourism.
Tourism goals set after the "new normal" could be at risk due to such a labour shortage.
The ministry thus believes human resource re-allocation to tourism needs to be brought to the fore in order to pave the wave for the full recovery of the sector. Some measures have been put forward to that end.
First, it is necessary to study and forecast the supply-demand of human resource in tourism in order to response timely with policies anytime supply-demand imbalances occur.
Second, education and training should be carried out across the board to improve human resource quality.
Third, employee retention policies should be put in place to keep labour outflows in check.
The ministry also considers training additional tourism workers to pick up the slack as soon as the sector fully recovers.
If the measures are not taken soon, high quality tourism personnel, notably licensed tour guides, will be in acute shortage once tourism picks up steam, the ministry said.
To support tour guides in hardship, the Government has granted a financial assistance of VND3.71 million (US$163) to every tour guide who lost their job during pandemic.
By November 2021, more than VND55 billion ($2.42 million) had been spent on the relief effort.
Unfortunately, only tour guides with official labour contracts are eligible for the relief. This means tour guides with no contract are not beneficiaries of the support package. Consequently, they have been left to their own devices.
"I'm a freelance tour guide. I'm not a full-time employee of any firm, thus I don't have official labour contract. Meanwhile, only those with an official contract are eligible for the relief. For this reason, I hope support packages will come with lower requirements so freelancers like me can tap into financial assistances more easily,” said freelance tour guide Nguyen Ngoc Thang.
However, not all tour guides permanently left the profession. Some held their grounds and adapted to the harsh pandemic by turning technology to their advantage, and offered virtual tours.
Surprisingly, the idea of virtual tours has been worked out well, with online tour guides earning a decent income in a hard time.
"I think the connection between tour guides and their tourists did not vanish, it just got switched to a different platform. I think virtual tours are the future of the tourism sector,” online tour guide Le Hoang said.
Virtual tours, or more general digital transformation, may hold the keys to a full recovery of tourism in the future.
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