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|Reviving Vietnam’s tourism amid a stream of opportunities and challenges|
From May 12 to 23, the largest sports event in the ASEAN region will officially take place in Hanoi, expected to attract nearly 10,000 athletes, coaches, and officials from different countries, as well as tens of thousands of foreign tourists.
Serving such a large number of international visitors has opened up an opportunity to promote the image of Vietnam’s safe tourism to the world and contribute to accelerating the recovery of the tourism industry.
According to Tran Trung Hieu, deputy director of Hanoi Department of Tourism, the advantages of geographical distance, trade, and smooth immigration procedures are the reasons why tourists from Southeast Asian countries can become the best stream of visitors that Vietnamese tourism can focus on attracting.
“Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines all have large populations and the demand for tourism to neighbouring countries is increasing. SEA Games 31 will be a great opportunity to promote guests from Southeast Asia as well as potential tourists from Europe, America, India, and the Middle East. For these markets, preferential visa-free policies are key to attracting them,” he said.
Vietnam was one of the earliest countries to announce the reopening of all tourism activities in Asia. Entry regulations continue to become more liberal, with the Ministry of Health deciding to halt medical declarations on entry to Vietnam last week, as a way to encourage tourism activities to return to normal.
According to Google Destination Insights tourism trend analysis data, the number of searches on Vietnamese tourism in April saw a large increase compared to more than a month ago. Currently, Vietnam is one of the four countries with the most searches, with a growth rate of over 75 per cent.
This index also shows that visitors from the United States, Australia, Singapore, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and Thailand are showing the most interest in Vietnam. The number of international searches for airlines to Vietnam also skyrocketed from 600 per cent more in early April to 800 per cent by the end of the month.
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) said the number of international visitors to Vietnam in the first quarter grew with 22,000 arrivals, and 15,000 arrivals in March alone, including visitors from new markets such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and India.
“A suitable open-door policy is creating many new opportunities for the tourism industry and businesses. Many tour operators are starting to have visitors and are expecting the recovery of previous key markets”, said Nguyen Quy Phuong, director of the Travel Department under the VNAT.
However, Vietnam’s tourism still has many challenges that need to be solved, especially when the competition with countries in the region becomes more fierce. From May 1, vaccinated tourists can freely enter Thailand without having to be tested for COVID-19, while Singapore also does not require visitors to wear masks when participating in outdoor activities.
One of the first challenges that make Vietnam less attractive to foreign tourists is visas. While most other countries in the region have applied a visa-free policy for international visitors who enter for 30 days or less, Vietnam still requires a visa for most tourists. The visa exemption period is also 15-50 per cent shorter than that of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia, while the cost of an entry visa at the border gate is nearly twice as high as that of Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia.
The second challenge lies in the regulation of the temporary stay period. Currently, the temporary stay period for foreigners entering with tourist visas is up to 30 days.
“Even if tourists get a 3-month visa, they can only temporarily stay in Vietnam for 30 days continuously. Such a policy has reduced the competitiveness of Vietnam’s tourism compared to ASEAN countries,” said Dau Anh Tuan, head of the Legal Department of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry based in Hanoi.
Currently, the peak tourist season for international visitors from Northeast Asian countries such as China, South Korea, and Japan is approaching. But it is likely that attracting tourists from markets that account for nearly 70 per cent of international tourists to Vietnam will be limited because China still pursues a strict pandemic policy, while Japan still requires people returning from abroad to be isolated. Many travel regulations for South Korea, although open since the beginning of April, remain inconsistent.
The tourism industry needs to expand to exploit new markets such as North America, India, and the Middle East. A representative of Saigontourist, the largest travel agency in Vietnam, noted that customers from key markets such as China and Europe have not returned yet, so the company has also actively developed cruise tourism and exploited more sources of visitors from the North American market.
“In October, Saigontourist will attend the International Tourism Fair in Singapore to promote market development to diversify new sources of visitors. From then until April 2023, the company will welcome and serve delegations from Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Celebrity with American and European nationals,” said the representative.