By staff writers – Translated by Kim Khanh
These days Sao Viet Company’s from Hanoi to Lao Cai Province on the China border carry only 5-10 passengers per trip.
Since the Covid reemerged in late January people who had booked tickets have been canceling them en masse, Do Van Bang, the company director, said.
Sao Viet has reduced its services by half to around 20 a day, but still gets few passengers.
“We hoped for an increase in the number of passengers during the peak Lunar New Year (Tet) season (in February), but all hopes were dashed by the latest outbreak,” Bang said.
“We are facing increasing losses, and the pressure to pay off debts after two consecutive years of suffering due to Covid-19 made me want to sell all my buses but no one dares buy at this time.”
Other transport companies face the same dilemma.
Dat Cang Transport and Service Joint Stock Company of Hai Phong City has 65 buses plying on the route to Hanoi.
Though it has cut down the number of trips by 80 percent, some buses still carry only two or three passengers, Khuc Huu Thanh, its director, said, adding if the situation lasts much longer, the company has to suspend operations.
Transport firms said they had managed to hold on last year despite the pandemic thanks to Tet revenues.
But this year Tet revenues took a huge hit due to the travel restrictions, lockdowns and quarantine requirements, and many transport companies have been unable to cope.
Nguyen Cong Hung, vice chairman of the Vietnam Automobile Transport Association, said the revenues of many transport firms are down 70 percent.
The association plans to ask the government for a 50 percent cut in taxes and delaying repayment of debts.
Since January 28, there have been 827 cases of Covid in 13 localities, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
A once desolate field in Ha Tinh Province, Vietnam has been given a facelift by 30-year-old Nguyen Van Ly.
The now stunning field in Thach Khe Commune, about five kilometers from Ha Tinh City, is where visitors stroll through the vibrant cosmos flowers as they snap photos, especially to commemorate the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday which fell on February 12.
The field is the result of Ly’s hard work and desire to start a sustainable business.
|Nguyen Van Ly holds a small bunch of cosmos flowers in his garden. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
Most of the visitors are surprised when they hear that the now blooming field was once a desolate, dry, abandoned strip of land.
According to Ly, about two months before Tet, he began planting the flowers and building dressing rooms for visitors to change outfits for photos.
The field also features notice boards with youthful messages and an area in the middle of the field where visitors can take shelter from the rain or sun.
“The land was once used to plant watermelon but it was abandoned because the owner thought it couldn’t turn a profit,” Ly shared.
“We decided to rent it at a cost equivalent to their watermelon sales in order to plant cosmos.
“We’ve so far spent about VND60 million [US$2,600] on this lot.”
The field of flowers hit peak blooms timely during the Tet holiday and has attracted large crowds of visitors ever since. On peak days, up to four hundred people visit the garden.
At first, visitors could enter free, but from February 15, Ly began charging an admission fee of VND30,000 ($1.30), except senior citizens and children.
The fee is used for watering and taking care of the flowers.
“I hope to be able to expand the field of flowers and then collaborate with local farmers to provide tourism services,” Ly shared.
“I can’t imagine how many people have come to visit my garden!”
|A section of the garden set up to provide visitors with shelter from the sun and rain. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
|The field of cosmos blooms in the sun. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
|A four-member family in the cosmos garden. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
|A young woman holds a flower in the garden of cosmos for photos. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
|A notice board among the beds of flowers reminds visitors not to step on the flowers. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
|The field of cosmos blooms attracted many locals during the 2021 Lunar New Year holiday. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
|Three women pose for a photo in the garden of cosmos. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
|Visitors come to the field to enjoy the beautiful blooming flowers. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre|
Three young women pose in the field of cosmos flowers. Photo: Ngoc Thang / Tuoi Tre
Reports of Bamboo Airways, a three-year-old aviation firm, operating more flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City than veteran air carrier Vietnam Airlines during Vietnam’s busiest travel week have shocked travel experts from across the country.
According to flight data, Vietnam Airlines made just 113 trips between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City during the one-week span from February 8 to 14, which coincided with the 2021 Lunar New Year holiday.
Comparatively, Bamboo Airways made 130 trips on the same route.
Flights between Vietnam’s two largest cities are considered critical to airline success given consistent demand and high profits.
Still, more flights do not necessarily mean more success.
More data related to how many seats were sold aboard each flight and how each carrier fared on its other routes is needed in order to truly judge who came out on top during the holiday season.
What the numbers do show, however, is the intensifying competition between Vietnam’s homegrown airlines, particularly as COVID-19 continues to keep thousands of passengers grounded.
According to a report on Vietnam’s aviation industry released in January, domestic airlines collectively operated 19,295 flights, with Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet each accounting for 6,000-7,000 departures, or twice as many as Bamboo Airways’.
Meanwhile, three-year-old Bamboo Airways seems to be gradually winning passengers’ hearts thanks to its high service quality.
As international operations remain in hibernation, the country’s six carriers – Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet, Bamboo Airways, Pacific Airlines, Vietravel Airlines, and VASCO – are each scrambling for ways to convince travelers that they offer the best product, including setting prices as low as VND85,460 ($3.7) for the Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City route.
Similar to Vietjet’s recent success, the surge of customers flocking to Bamboo Airways reflects the significant role played by private airlines in Vietnam in an industrial landscape long dominated by national carrier Vietnam Airlines.
Not only beaten by Vietjet in the domestic flight category, Vietnam Airlines and its subsidiary VASCO are also facing tough competition from Bamboo Airways on the Ho Chi Minh City – Con Dao or Rach Gia – Ca Mau routes.
Under the shadow of the current COVID-19 crisis, Vietnam Airlines is the only domestic carrier to benefit from the government’s bailout package after it reported a VND14 trillion ($610 million) loss in 2020.
Meanwhile, Vietjet and Bamboo are pulling themselves by the bootstraps to negotiate debt rescheduling and the sale of assets, which in turn have helped them post profits of VND70 billion ($3 million) and VND400 billion ($17.4 million), respectively, in 2020.
According to experts, Bamboo’s success over Vietnam Airlines on one route during one week cannot be used to reflect the entire industry, considering the aviation sector tends to reward those who achieve optimal cost management, sound ticket pricing, and decent customer service over an extended period of time.
During the current travel slump, experts recommended that the government maintain fair competition in terms of policy and bailout programs in order to ensure customers’ gain and avoid reinstating a monopoly in aviation.
|Since Vietnam’s timber exports are on the rise, securing supply chains for raw materials is crucial. Photo: Le Toan|
By the end of 2020, Nguyen Trong Hieu and seven other production households representing the Lien Ha handicraft village in Hanoi’s Dan Phuong district had been supplying the market mostly with beds and wardrobes, mainly to furniture store Tan Vinh Cuu JSC (Tavico) in the southern province of Dong Nai.
Hieu told VIR, “We are gradually creating links between production households in Lien Ha and furniture manufacturers in the south to promote and sell our products.”
However, as long as the southern market remains unfamiliar with traditional handicraft products from the north, Lien Ha can certainly not sell its products immediately. The advantages of its craftsmanship or the use of proper and high-quality materials cannot offset the cost of transporting from Hanoi to Dong Nai.
“The important factor for these products is to have a unique design, but we cannot always achieve it,” Hieu explained.
The emergence of Lien Ha village’s products at Tavico has attracted the attention of other manufacturers, contributing to creating new awareness for traditional craft villages about the legal use of timber. This association process can help craft villages build brand names and values through activities that capture market trends, the importance of designs, and the demand of domestic consumers.
There are already several link models between craft villages and manufacturers in Vietnam, some of which were born when they realised that such cooperation would foster survival to withstand the pandemic, even before taking sustainable development into account. However, these models are still very new, focusing on a few timber suppliers and not meant for export, which would benefit the entire value chain the most.
“Vietnam has a weak and inactive link system when it comes to wood billets and other raw materials,” said Tran Thien, director of Thanh Hoa Co., Ltd.
According to Thien, the stages within the chain, from afforestation over processing to sales, are not defined. Vietnam’s timber industry, of which 95 per cent are private enterprises, “is still completely swimming by itself and lacks supportive policies from the government.”
Thanh Hoa, based in Ho Chi Minh City, supplies timber to nearly 70 furniture manufacturers and witnessed the breakdown of existing timber supply chains. After nearly 10 years of sticking to three projects between businesses and growers in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue, Thien had to give up the plan to develop sustainable material areas, as the loss amounted to nearly VND5 billion ($217,000), with more than 3,000 cubic metres of raw materials in stock.
In principle, the signing and implementation of contracts between raw material suppliers and furniture manufacturers must comply with the provisions of the law on economic contracts. Thien mentioned a “painful” situation as the implementation of contractual commitments is a weakness of many timber enterprises.
“The rights belong to the buyers and owners of the large processing companies, and they never give up their interests to be equal with the primary processors or the 1.1 million forest planters,” Thien said.
Vietnamese manufacturers of timber products meant for export have just experienced 2020 and made it through the year mostly thanks to a sharp increase in customers during the pandemic. Nevertheless, the internal report of the Vietnam Timber and Forest Product Association reaffirmed the importance of sustainable raw material supplies.
COVID-19 has disrupted the supply chains of timber from China, making it difficult for manufacturers that depend on this supply. Timber flows sourced from some of Vietnam’s main sources, such as Nigeria, were stopped because the governments of these countries ceased exporting and importing goods at the time of the outbreaks.
Timber suppliers in Vietnam currently only import enough goods for signed orders and did not sign new ones, especially with the African market out of fear that COVID-19 would hit again and continue to disrupt supply chains and cause risks to their businesses.
More than a year after the pandemic began, the export of wooden furniture in Vietnam continues to suffer under its negative impacts, also including afforestation households, primary processors, and importers of raw materials. For example, the output of the Tay Coc sawmill in the northern province of Phu Tho’s Doan Hung district has decreased by more than 60 per cent compared to 2019.
According to Nguyen Van Thai, owner of the sawmill, the price of timber has decreased sharply, and inventories remain fully stocked, so Tay Coc can only produce in moderation. In Doan Hung, the price of materials like round acacia timber has decreased by VND100,000 ($4.30) per tonne compared to before the pandemic. In particular, the price of wood chips has fallen sharply, from over VND800,000 ($35) per tonne to below VND700,000 ($30).
Thai said that these lower prices had a direct negative impact on afforestation households.
Nguyen Xuan Cuong, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, has more than once mentioned the deepening imbalance within the local timber industry. The north-central and central regions are lacking factories and industrial zones for the timber industry, while manufacturers are mainly located in the southern and eastern provinces. This, he argued, leads to low material purchases from farmers and does not speed up afforestation – the fundamental solution for Vietnam’s timber exports to develop sustainably.
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development shows that in 2020, the export value of forest products reached about $13.17 billion, exceeding the plan for last year by 5.4 per cent and representing an increase of 16.4 per cent compared to 2019, in which the export of timber and related products was estimated at $12.8 billion. But to achieve such figures, businesses had to spend about $2.58 billion on imports of timber and materials, up 11 per cent from 2019.
Exports of timber and products thereof are set to reach around $20 billion by 2025 – an ambitious goal, especially when considering that so far Vietnam has not identified opportunities to increase its share in the global market and raw material chains.
Now that COVID-19 is also back in Vietnam, the situation once again shows the importance of the domestic market as a platform for the timber industry. Vo Quang Ha, chairman of Tavico said, “This opportunity should be used to balance the interests of the different players in the timber industry.”
With these conditions, Ha found that many timber exporters also had plans to bring their products to the domestic market but faced many difficulties because they could not find suitable distribution channels and open shops for sale. Because of the high cost of premises, the resulting product prices would only lead to a loss of competitive advantages. In addition, the quantity of orders from domestic retailers is small and cannot relate to mass production.
Current development policies for the timber industry still focus on export processing but may require a more balanced policy to enable links in the chains to develop together. According to Ha, the timber industry should be divided into four chains that specify where the timber goes to.
“If the policy continues to focus on export, it will only take care of a quarter of the development target. But if the state makes policies suitable to the characteristics of each chain, it will help the whole industry to grow more sustainably,” Ha said.
Dr. To Xuan Phuc, an expert at Forest Trends, said that Vietnam needs a strategy for sustainable development of the industry, clearly defining product lines and strategic markets. Only then can the country accurately prepare the local timber industry for the global map.
Phuc also said that this period could be an opportunity for the Vietnamese timber industry to build new chains, with the government playing a leading role in creating priority conditions for businesses to participate in the supply of legal timber products, especially those derived from planted forests by households, which are preliminarily processed through household sawmills located in plantation areas.
“The Vietnamese government can also apply a public procurement policy to domestically produced products and introduce legal tender rules to encourage businesses and promote markets,” Phuc suggested.
Such an incentive, he believed, would help form links and domestic supply chains between businesses, processors, and reforestation households to serve the public procurement market, which is not small at all.
By Hai Van
Vietnam was the only country in ASEAN to be upgraded in the global soft power rankings.
Vietnam is considered a bright spot thanks to the increasing value of Vietnam’s national brand and the socio-economic results achieved over the past year.
According to Brand Finance, Vietnam has brought into play all aspects of soft power relatively well, especially the integration of its leading product brands. Vietnam’s national reputation in the past year has increased in large part thanks to the Government’s quick policy responses especially its close direction in supporting businesses to build and promote their brands locally and abroad as well as the dynamism and efforts of Vietnamese businesses.
In order to publish the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Brand Finance held the “2021 Global Soft Power Summit” from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm on February 25, 2021 (Vietnam time).
Samir Dixit, Managing Director of Brand Finance Asia Pacific, said that Vietnam seems to have managed all aspects of its reputation quite well, in particular the integration and alignment of its national brand and the brands from around the country.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved the Vietnam National Brand Programme from 2020 to 2030, which aims to increase the value and rankings of the national brand while hoping to make over 1,000 products national brands. These are managed through the specific efforts of and initiatives undertaken by Vietrade, under their national mark program “Vietnam Value”, Samir Dixit said.
According to Vu Ba Phu, Director General of the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, Ministry of Industry and Trade of Vietnam, Vietnam is one of the most open economies in the world, with its ratio of trade to GDP increasing from 136% in 2010 to approximately 200% in 2019. Amid the COVID-19 shutdowns, which caused outputs to slump in early 2020, Vietnam was among only a small few countries able to achieve positive GDP growth – at nearly 3%.
Thanks to the support of the Vietnam National Brand Programme, many Vietnamese enterprises have gradually professionally created, developed, and promoted their brands, thereby improving their competitiveness and affirming their position in both domestic and foreign markets. Many outstanding Vietnamese enterprise brands have resonated in both the regional and international markets.
In the coming time, according to Director General Phu, in order to build up and promote its soft power, first of all, Vietnam needs to undertake a strategic orientation for systematic and long-term soft power promotion in the digital era.
Secondly, it is necessary to improve both growth quality and labor productivity, and to promote creative industries – thereby improving the overall competitiveness of the economy.
Thirdly, it is essential to continue to preserve and promote the diversified and rich values of Vietnamese culture.
Fourth, diplomacy should concentrate on enhancing capacity and asserting the role of “pivotal, leading and mediating” in region and international affairs.
Fifth, focused investment in science and technology development needs to be prioritized.
In addition to building and promoting its soft power, Vietnam also needs to strengthen its hard power to create synergy – “smart power” – to demonstrate the nation’s new geostrategic and geo-economic position.