February 26, 2020 / 6:44 AM / 2 months ago

Vietnam bars tourists from virus-hit parts of South Korea

FILE PHOTO: A health worker sprays disinfectant inside a Vietnam Airlines airplane to protect against the recent coronavirus outbreak, at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, Vietnam February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Kham/File photo

HANOI/NHA TRANG, Vietnam (Reuters) - Vietnam banned tourists from coronavirus-hit areas of South Korea on Wednesday, a blow to a tourism industry already reeling from a collapse in Chinese visitor numbers.

The government said in a news release that people from those areas who needed to come to Vietnam for other reasons must be quarantined for 14 days when entering the country. The move came after the number of cases of the new coronavirus reported in South Korea rose above 1,100.

South Korea accounted for a quarter of Vietnam’s 18 million tourists last year - the biggest group after Chinese visitors, whose travel had already been curtailed because of the virus.

In the southern resort of Nha Trang, beaches are empty, tour buses sit idle and many shops are shut down at what would normally be a busy season.

“All the hotels around here are almost empty,” the owner of a hotel on Tran Phu Street in Nha Trang said by phone. “All the Chinese tourists are gone, and now South Korean tourists are too.”

Le Trong Vinh, who runs the Nest Hospitality Group with five hotels in Nha Trang, said on Wednesday more than 20% of his guests have canceled bookings in the recent days.

The number of South Korean tourists to Nha Trang more than tripled last year to 305,000, local authorities said.

Vietnamese state media reported early this month that the coronavirus epidemic could wipe $5.9 billion to $7.7 billion from Vietnam’s tourism earnings in the next three months as international travelers stay away from the region.

Vietnam Airlines HVN.HM, Bamboo Airways and Vietjet VJC.HM have all scaled back flights to South Korea.

Writing by Khanh Vu. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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