In early 2021, 59 foreign tourists arrived in Phuket province in southern Thailand and were quarantined at a luxury hotel for 14 days. This is one of the first groups of international tourists to Thailand under the “resort quarantine” program.
According to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration of Thailand (CCSA), a group of Korean tourists also went to a golf course in Nakhon Nayok for quarantine. After 14 days of quarantine and playing golf here, they were allowed to fly to Chiang Mai to continue their tour.
Six golf resorts have been approved by the Thai Government as isolation centers for tourists. This tour got the attention of Korean businessmen doing business in Thailand and golf athletes and players who were looking for a practice facility. With this program, they can travel, comply with the quarantine rules, and play golf.
In South Korea, golf is one of the sports that attracts the rich. This is the third largest golf market in the world with more than 3 million players, behind only the US (28.8 million players) and Japan (10 million players).
To experience such a “quarantine and golf” tour, golf players have to spend 2.49 million won (about 2,200 USD). This is considered a reasonable price compared to the cost for 14 days of quarantine in a regular hotel. Demand for this tour tripled, with 100 rooms for about 150 guests.
As for Thailand, the reopening of the tourism industry started on the luxury segment as an “exploratory” step. Golf is one of sports that doesn’t require a lot of close contact between players, so the ability to spread of diseases is not much. Moreover, golfers are able to stay longer, spend a lot of money, and stay at high-end resorts.
Golf tourism has been considered the gold mine of the Thai economy for many years. In 2019, before the covid-19 pandemic broke out, Thailand attracted more than 40 million tourists, earning 63.4 billion USD, accounting for a fifth of the country’s total domestic income.
Opportunity for Vietnam
Thailand’s golf tourism model could be a lesson for many countries to save the tourism industry during the crisis.
According to the Vietnam Golf Association, among more than 15.5 million international visitors to Vietnam in 2018, golf tourists accounted for 0.8%, mainly from South Korea, Japan and some Southeast Asian countries.
A representative of Yen Dung golf course said that 70-80% of players at this golf course are Koreans, and of them, half are tourists and another half are Korean professionals working in Vietnam.
For Vietravel and Saigontourist – two large tourism firms in Vietnam – most of their golf tourists come from South Korea and Japan, who favored the golf courses based in Da Nang City or Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City. In 2019, some tourist companies planned to operate charter flights to take golf players to Nha Trang and Phu Quoc.
Vietnam is also considered a “golden” market for golf tourism. Forbes once rated Vietnam as the country with the fastest golf development in the world.
In recent years, along with the development of tourism infrastructure, a series of high-class resorts were built, and a golf course system in Vietnam was also invested. According to the Vietnam Golf Tourism Association, the country has about 80 golf courses, including 32 golf courses meeting regional and international standards. Most of Vietnam’s golf courses are newly built, modernly designed, capable of competing with the best golf courses of other countries in the region.
Going behind Thailand and Malaysia in this field, but Vietnam golf courses have the advantage of being beautiful, new, diverse terrain, designed by many famous golfers in the world. The golf courses in Japan are more beautiful but cannot operate in winter. Therefore, coming to Vietnam to play golf is a reasonable choice for Japanese.
However, Vietnam still lacks direct flights from Japan and South Korea to the home places of golf courses. The resort city of Da Lat has threr beautiful golf courses, but international visitors who want to play golf there have to take transit flights through Hanoi, Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City.
In addition, Vietnam has yet to build an international brand in golf tourism, although it was awarded the Best Golf Destination Asia by the World Golf Awards for two consecutive years.
To welcome foreign tourists to play golf in the quarantine golf model as Thailand did, Vietnamese golf courses need to set up have their own conditions to avoid infection, as what has happened at some golf courses. They also need to cooperate with travel agencies to develop many golf tourism products combining with conferences, seminars, exhibitions, events, reward tourism (MICE), and holiday tourism.
In the long term, tourism combining resort and golf can become valuable for Vietnamese tourism, especially in the context that Vietnam is the world’s leading growth country in terms of golf market.
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