Vietnam's resort island welcomes first tourists after nearly 2 yrs

Two hundred vaccinated foreign tourists arrived in Vietnam's beach-fringed island of Phu Quoc on Saturday, the first wave of visitors to the country in nearly two years as it seeks to resurrect its pandemic-ravaged tourism economy.

Vietnam imposed tight border controls at the start of the pandemic in an effort to keep out COVID-19, with some initial success, but that harmed its burgeoning tourism sector, which typically accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product.

Vaccinated tourists now do not have to undergo mandatory two-week quarantine, according to the authorities, but are required to enjoy their holiday only inside the mega complex resort Vinpearl and will be tested twice during their trip.

"This is the first and vital step to revive our tourism sector and to prepare for the full resumption next year," Nguyen Trung Khanh, chairman of the country's tourism administration said in statement.

"We want to offer tourists a new experience amid new normalcy which they can live fully in Phu Quoc and then live fully in Vietnam," Khanh added.

The island's authorities expect to welcome 400,000 domestic and international tourists to the end of this year.

Other Vietnamese destinations such as the UNESCO world heritage site Hoi An and Danang beach are also welcoming international tourists back.

The move follows similar steps taken by neighbouring Thailand, which hosted vaccinated foreign tourist for quarantine-free holiday earlier this month.

Foreign arrivals to Vietnam slumped from 18 million in 2019, when tourism revenue was $31 billion, or nearly 12% of its gross domestic product, to 3.8 million last year.

Vietnam, which has inoculated more than half of its 98 million people, is seeking to resume international commercial flights from January next year and eyeing a full tourism reopening from June.