A new game for Vietnam tourism

April 04, 2023 | 10:33
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Inbound tourism businesses in Vietnam are looking forward to visa policy reform to help boost the industry after plans officially got the thumbs-up and are set for National Assembly approval.
A new game for Vietnam tourism
A new game for Vietnam tourism, Photo: Shutterstock

Although it has only been in operation for four months, the Grand Mercure Hanoi, a high-class hotel located in the heart of the capital under the management of Accor Group in Hanoi, has begun to record positive results.

General manager Andre Erasmus said that the number of guests booking through marketing channels and online sales channels accounts for 40 per cent of the total number of hotel guests. And 30 per cent of these have returned to Vietnam for a second time.

Erasmus said that attracting more tourists depends on the level of openness of future tourism policies.

“The visa process is just too complicated, too expensive, and too long, and it’s easier to travel to destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia,” he said.

“At present, we also have to compete with the likes of Thailand and the Philippines, where the visa process is so much easier. And there are so many countries to travel to, that some may feel that it is not worth the trouble bothering with Vietnam.”

The barriers that exist in the visa process were mentioned by many inbound businesses at the tourism roundtable organised by VIR two weeks ago. Just a few days later, the voice of business was recognised when the government decided to submit visa reforms in a joint resolution at the fifth session of the National Assembly in May.

The proposals include increasing the tourist visa period to three months, with multiple entries; issuing electronic visas worldwide, and extending the temporary stay period for citizens of countries unilaterally exempted from visas by Vietnam to 45 days.

Vietnam currently exempts visas for citizens from 25 countries, while this number in Thailand is nearly three times this, and for Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines it is six-fold greater.

Vu The Binh, chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said that Vietnam’s tourism sector was aiming to attract a stream of high-class tourists to resorts and explore with a travel time of three weeks or more.

“The old regulations only allowed them to stay up to 15 days and then extend their visas, but tourists often don’t want to take a long time for the procedures,” he said.

According to analysis by the World Tourism Organization and the World Travel & Tourism Council, the favourable visa policy could help increase the number of international visitors to each country by as much as 25 per cent annually.

Research on the impact of visa exemption for five Western European countries by the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board shows that the average number of visitors from these countries has already increased by nearly 20 per cent over past years. The simplicity and flexibility of the new visa policy is expected to help the tourism industry break through, increasing the efficiency of welcoming international visitors from the target of 8 million visitors, to 10 or 12 million visitors this year.

Head of the Tourism Working Group of the Vietnam Business Forum (VBF) Martin Koerner said, “A further benefit of the recent legislation is that it will enhance Vietnam’s appeal and competition as a destination for not only tourism but also investment and business.”

According to Koerner, the updated visa policy will attract more foreigners to Vietnam by offering them more convenience, flexibility, and options in obtaining and using their visas. The reformed legal framework will also create more opportunities for foreigners to travel, seek investment and business opportunities, and establish partnerships and cooperation with Vietnamese counterparts.

The new law also will increase the number and diversity of foreign visitors to Vietnam by making it more accessible and attractive to them. This will generate more income and speed up the recovery for the tourism sector and related businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, transport, entertainment, and souvenirs. The updated visa policy will also create more jobs and livelihoods for many Vietnamese who work in the tourism industry or benefit from it indirectly.

“The reformed legal framework will thus enhance Vietnam’s reputation and position as a top tourism destination in the region and beyond,” Koerner said.

Besides the breakthrough on visa reform, experts and tourism businesses say that quality products and services are other factors that keep tourists staying for a long time and keep coming back.

According to Dr. Nuno Ribeiro, deputy senior programme manager for Tourism and Hospitality Management at RMIT Vietnam University, international tourists spend an average of 11 times more than domestic tourists.

“Vietnam needs to find high-spending, luxury customers, and provide them with luxury hotels so that they can experience the highest quality and high-end services,” he said. “We need to communicate that Vietnam is an interesting and valuable destination, limiting the belief that Vietnam is just a low-cost destination.”

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Le Huong, deputy general director of Vietravel, said that more communication was required to let international tourists know about Vietnam as a great resort destination. “If Bali and Hawaii are famous as attractive islands, and Dubai is a shopping capital, then Vietnam is a resort destination. We have built ecotourism, rural tourism, and experience tourism products, but resort tourism retains guests longer, and they come more,” said Huong.

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