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|Vietnam’s goal of welcoming five million foreign visitors: expectations versus reality|
On an Air Asia flight departing from Thailand to Vietnam on May 27, about half of the passengers were foreigners. Most of them are Thai, while others were tourists from Europe or North America. Thai woman Isra said that she and a group of 10 friends were to visit Vietnam for four days, before continuing their journey to another country.
“We wanted to travel to Vietnam a few years ago, but the plans fell through. Therefore, we decided to choose Vietnam as our first destination once it reopened. It’s fortunate that the entry regulations are much more relaxed,” Isra said.
Since removing the requirement for compulsory quarantine, COVID-19 testing, and medical declarations, Vietnam, along with Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, have become the first countries in Asia to introduce open policies to lure foreign tourists.
Proposals to extend visas to 30 days, or visa exemptions for citizens from particular nations, are also being considered by the Vietnamese government, aiming to expand the market and increase revenue for the tourism industry in the context that the number of visitors from previous key markets such as China, South Korea, or Japan has not yet recovered.
Vietnam’s Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) has proposed that the PC-Covid application is adjusted to be more suitable for international visitors, allowing the use of overseas email addresses and phone numbers to log in when installing abroad.
Thanks to open and relaxed policies, the number of international visitors is showing signs of recovery. According to the General Statistics Office, foreign arrivals to Vietnam jumped 70.6 per cent on-month in May and up 12.8-fold on-year.
The sharp increase resulted from the country’s full reopening to international tourists, the resumption of international flight routes, and a push from international delegations to Vietnam to attend the SEA Games at the end of May.
Generally, in the first five months of 2022, the number of international visitors rose 4.5-fold on-year, while revenues from lodging and catering services in the first five months of the year added 15.7 per cent on-year. The SEA Games contributed to driving up the revenues of these services in May by 69.3 per cent on-year. During the period, tourism revenues rose by 34.7 per cent on-year.
The latest report released by the World Economic Forum showed that Vietnam ranked 52nd in the biennial travel and tourism development index in 2021, up eight notches against 2019, making the country one of the world’s three biggest improvers along with Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while some other famous destinations in Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines have been downgraded.
Domestic tourism demand is forecasted to increase in the summer, along with the reopening of the tourism industry in some other countries. Airlines in Vietnam said they plan to increase the number of flights on both domestic and international routes in the near future.
Vietnam Airlines Group, which consists of Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific, and Vietnam Air Services Company, plans to provide more than 36,000 domestic and international flights from June to mid-August. More than 850,000 seats will be offered on international routes, about 40 per cent compared to 2019.
Vietravel Airlines also announced plans to open international flights to Indonesia, Thailand, and South Korea.
Bamboo Airways, meanwhile, plans to gradually increase the frequency and expand routes to other markets in Asia, Australia, and Europe to serve passenger demand during the peak summer period. This airline is opening round-trip flights to Germany and the UK and wants to increase the frequency of flights to Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.
After the first five months of the year, Vietnam’s tourism industry has only fulfilled about 10 per cent of the journey to conquer the goal of welcoming five million international visitors in 2022 – only a quarter of the number of international visitors to Vietnam in 2019. Despite high expectations for the last six months of the year, the tourism industry still has many issues that need to be ironed out.
Luong Thanh Quang, deputy head of the Consular Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that visa exemptions or relaxed health regulations are not necessarily decisive factors in attracting international tourists.
“In order to ensure a safe and effective recovery of international tourism in the near future, it is necessary to focus on developing infrastructure, improving the quality of products and human resources in tourism, and strengthening the communication and promotion of Vietnam’s destinations,” Quang shared.
Meanwhile, the TAB also believes that measuring success in attracting international visitors through the number of visitors is no longer appropriate. “Vietnam needs to create an attractive environment for customers to spend the most. Articles on official websites promoting Vietnam’s tourism and social networking sites also need to be constantly updated with information about the full reopening of the country’s tourism activities,” a TAB representative suggested.