Industry insiders have urged the Government to further open up visa policy for foreign tourists to make Vietnam’s hospitality industry more attractive.
The visa exemption has been proved an effective measure to attract foreign arrivals.
Vietnam has set a target of welcoming 20 million foreign visitors in 2020 and developing tourism into a key economic sector, and one way of achieving that goal is to provide visa waivers for important markets, the insiders said.
Luong Hoai Nam, Deputy General Director of Vietstar Airlines, said that the open visa policy is one of preconditions for attracting arrivals, adding that most of tourists don’t care about visa costs but feeling uncomfortable when applying for a visa.
According to Nam, tourism visa is not a bilateral issue, which means that expanding or tightening visa depends on tourism policies of each country.
Vietnam’s visa policy has been considered a “bottleneck” of tourism. The complicated procedures and visa costs make Vietnam less attractive for foreigners than neighboring countries.
Visa exemptions are a global trend and Vietnam’s tourism competitors in the region are “very open” with their policies, Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said.
Currently, Vietnam offers visa waivers to visitors from only 23 countries including ASEAN co-members. Indonesia, one of the world’s most liberalized countries for visas, grants visa-free travel to 169 countries. Singapore allows 158 nationalities to enter visa-free, while the figure for Malaysia is 155 and Thailand 61.
The visa exemption has been proved an effective measure to attract foreign arrivals to the country.
According to Binh, the visa-exemption policy for citizens from the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy that has been in force since July 2015 has boosted the number of European tourists to the country and did not decrease tourism revenue, he said.
The exemption policy attracted 720,000 tourists from these countries in the first 12 months – an increase of 96,000 tourists compared to the period in 2014 – yielding total revenues of US$126 million, while the deficit in visa fees caused by the exemption was $21.6 million, Binh said.
Similarly, 58,000 more European tourists visited the country last year and yielded $76 million in revenues, while the deficit in visa fees was $2.3 million, he said, adding that the increased number of tourists and revenues created development opportunities for several types of tourism service.
Binh also suggested that the government should extend its visa waivers by five years instead of reviewing them annually.
Travel firms also said they cannot use the visa exemptions for promotional campaigns as the policy could change after a year.
This short-term policy only works for individual tourists while businesses that offer large tours need a more stable policy, they said.