Power cuts deal blow to tourism industry

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Accommodation providers in the dark as customers see red amid surprise blackouts

Foreign tourists escape the heat in Hanoi at Sword Lake in Hanoi. Blackouts have cut hotel business in the middle of peak travel season as customers flee the unpredictable lack of amenities.

Blackouts have cut hotel business in the middle of peak travel season as customers caught in stopped elevators flee and others just stay away all together.

The power shortages have been caused by thinner energy supplies coming from the hydro-electricity plants that account for 34 percent of the total energy generation in the country. Water levels have plunged at many hydropower reservoirs since droughts began in April, with some so low that certain plants have had to cut all output.

While power demand in Vietnam is set to rise 18 percent this year on the back of an economic recovery, the lack of water in reservoirs will translate into a loss of nearly one billion kilowatt-hours of electricity at hydropower plants, the government said in a recent statement.

Nguyen Duy Thi, head of the sales department at the Blue Sky Ha Long hotel in the northern Quang Ninh Province, said blackouts happen every 2-3 days at the establishment, and they often last from early morning to evening.

Blue Sky serves many tourists visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay, located in Quang Ninh.

"Just yesterday, power was also suddenly cut," said Thi. "Many visitors are obsessed by the power cuts, they often check whether or not there is power or not before booking."

To keep customers, many hotels have to use generators to supply electricity every day. Thi said his hotel has to spend over VND3 million ($157) a day buying fuel to run generators for its 82 rooms, restaurants and swimming pool. The payment is twice the price of electricity from the national grid.

Each month, the monthly average electricity cost of the three-star hotel is VND70-80 million, but the hotel, in June, had to pay an additional nearly VND20 million for electricity from the generator on days that had no power, Thi said.

The hotel is often not given notice of the blackouts, said Thi, who added that several customers have become stuck in stopped elevators as a result. "Although we turn on the generators only 2-3 minutes after the power is cut, visitors often panic."

Having no power, the two-star hotel Victory Vung Tau in the southern beach city of Vung Tau uses a big generator, but its output is unstable. It can cause noise that troubles customers, said the hotel's director Nguyen Viet Thinh.

People also often complain that the scent of burning fuel that emanates from generators can be bothersome.

"Some visitors have canceled their tours because they're worried about blackouts," he said. Higher input costs due to the use of generators coupled with falling occupancy rates have slashed the hotel's profit by one-third.

Hotels in the northern port city of Hai Phong are also feeling the heat. The owner of a mini hotel said only two thirds of its rooms have been booked in recent months due to the power cut. The hotel's small generator can supply enough power only for fans, lamps and TVs, not elevators or air-conditioners.

Thi of Blue Sky Ha Long said hotels in the area are also facing a shortage of running water. His hotel has to buy 4-5 tanks of water for daily use for VND1 million each. Each tank contains 15 cubic meters of water.

"On days that we have no power and running water, we have no profit, and we suffer losses," he said.

The government has ordered state-owned Electricity of Vietnam to report on the impacts of power cuts on business operations and daily life in the country. It has also asked EVN, as the national power utility is also known, to increase its purchases of energy to ease the power shortage in the country.

The government said power production rose 17 percent in the first six months this year but still failed to meet the country's demand.

EVN on July 1 announced that it had stopped cutting back on power supplies to cities and provinces thanks to improved production. However, power cuts have been reported in many places since the announcement.

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