Saigon boat owners stay afloat with river tours

Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown at night. Authorities want the city to become an international financial hub. MANH LINH/VIETNAM NEWS AGENCY/VIET NAM NEWS. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

HO CHI MINH CITY, Jul 10, 2020, VN Express. With travel restrictions imposed on international visitors dampening HCMC tourism, Saigon River is abuzz with cruise operators targeting local clientele. After three months suspension due to the Covid-19, An Son Lam, general director of Indochina Sail Co., Ltd, returned four of his Indochina Queen boats to service as Vietnam lifted its social distancing campaign in late April, VN Express reported.

Formerly hosting meetings, lunches and dinners on boats, the firm recently launched Saigon River tours to compensate for the pandemic lack of business.

Before Covid-19 hit, Lam’s boats served dinner to at least 100 guests a day, falling to about 50 over the weekend. Besides, docking fees of up to VND400 million ($17,300) a month have placed a further burden on the struggling company.

“Neglected boats will quickly degrade. This season, customers rarely travel far due to the pandemic. The river tours will increase the experience value for visitors and Saigon residents. It is also a way to promote HCMC river tourism,” Lam said.

He noted the city had many attractive destinations like the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, and Cu Chi Tunnels but that there is a lack of new products to entice visitors back.

The 90-minute sunset tour departs from Saigon Port Service Center at 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4 at 5:30 p.m. Guests can sip a drink and enjoy a light meal onboard while taking in Saigon’s bustling skyline.

Tickets for adults cost VND100,000 ($4.3), and half for children. All prices are 50 percent less than what had previously been decided.

“After the tourism market returns to normal [reopening to international tourists], we will consider cooperating with travel agents to do more,” said Lam.

After only five days in operation, Indochina Queen has welcomed 500 visitors, which is a positive sign, Lam said. “Water tourism is a feature of Saigon often associated with boats and water life. Opening related services for tourists and citizens can help businesses reduce losses in difficult times.”

On Friday, another firm, Greenlines DP Company, will also debut a cruise along inland waterways, departing from Bach Dang Wharf on Saigon River toward Thanh Da Peninsula, then passing Binh Hoa Wharf bound for Thu Dau Mot in neighboring Binh Duong Province, before continuing to Tiamo Wharf and Cu Chi Tunnels, totaling 60 km.

The line will run four trips a day with a capacity of 96 passengers per trip. The cost depends on each leg of the journey, ranging from VND120,000 to 220,000 ($5.2 – 9.5).

Le Hoa Hiep, an expert in travel management, said such new products could add competitive value to HCMC. “The city has no strength in attracting domestic visitors. While the foreign tourist market remains closed, having such attractive new products will be a plus point to attract [domestic] travelers.”

With Vietnam’s borders still closed as a Covid-19 preventive measure, the country’s foreign visitor numbers in the first half of the year dropped 55.8 percent year-on-year to 3.74 million.

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