Tourism experts have called on the government to ease the current visa requirements in the hope of attracting more international travellers to the country and to provide a boost for Vietnam’s tourism sector.
Vietnam witnessed a boom in domestic tourists in 2022 with 101 million internal holidaymakers, but the country failed to woo international travellers. Last year, just 3.5 million foreign visitors had travelled to Vietnam, lower than the target of five million. While Vietnam has seen a slow recovery of inbound tourism, other Southeast Asian countries are achieving their targets.
This is partly because Vietnam's traditional markets in Northeast Asia have not yet reopened for international tourism. Geopolitical uncertainty and the economic downturn have also slowed the flow of tourists from Europe. But there may be another factor at play, according to industry insiders.
Chris Farwell, a member of the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) said, "Thailand is a major competitor of Vietnam and grants visa exemptions to tourists from 65 countries, allowing a stay of 30–45 days and up to 90 days in some cases. On the other hand, Vietnam has yet to issue any policy that eases visa requirements. In fact, Vietnam has made its visa procedures more bureaucratic, which has dampened the flow of inbound tourism."
"Travellers often complain about the difficulty of obtaining visas at Vietnamese embassies. Some are charged with higher fees when using services from travel agencies. Citizens from some countries are not entitled to e-visas, so they have to wait up to 30 days and pay $800 to get a visa," said Farwell.
“It is vital to change the policy to make Vietnam more attractive to international tourists. Vietnam should expand the list of visa-exempt countries and extend the period of stay to 30–45 days. This will encourage more foreigners to travel to Vietnam,” he added.
TAB also offered ideas on removing the paperwork burden for visas, suggesting more attention should be paid to the e-visa system. These include making e-visas available to visitors from all countries, changing the domain name to make it easier for foreigners to find online, and cutting down on service agents. In addition, the user interface on these websites needs to be improved and the system in general needs to be reviewed for quicker and more consistent response time to customers' enquiries.
Vietnam's tourism sector is aiming to welcome eight million international visitors this year as China is starting to gradually reopen to international tourism markets. Vietnam has an opportunity to attract Chinese tourists away from big markets such as Thailand, Malaysia, India, Europe and America.
Vu The Binh, chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said, "Authorities have to communicate with each other to streamline the visa-application process. Vietnam should take swift action, as guests can change their minds quickly when there are other destinations in Southeast Asia. If Vietnam drags its feet on these changes, the country could very well miss out on a golden opportunity."
From the perspective of tour operators, Nguyen Cong Hoan, general director of Flamingo Redtour, said that Vietnam needs to adopt policies that will attract the workforce back to the industry, support financing for the construction of new tourism products, and take measures to promote the market. "If tourism firms are to recover to pre-pandemic levels, then Vietnam will need to receive the same number of tourists as it did back then. A strong domestic tourism industry can play its part in attracting large numbers of international tourists," Hoan said.
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