Vietnam commercial hub says visa waiver has paid dividends, should not be scrapped

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Ho Chi Minh City tourism officials have proposed that the government continues granting visa exemption to visitors from Japan, South Korea, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, saying the policy has yielded positive results so far.

The HCMC Tourism Association said in a statement to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism that the visa waiver, given for single-entry visits of up to 15 days for nationals of the seven countries, has boosted arrivals.

The recommendation follows an announcement earlier this year that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was considering revoking the visa waiver, saying tourism agencies have failed to make good use of it, and that the returns have been far below the annual revenue loss of $50 million in visa fees.

But the association said tourists from the seven countries increased seven to 11 times from 2004, the year the policy took effect, and 2011. Tourists from these countries also tend to stay longer in Vietnam, from six to 14 days, spending more than US$100 a person a day.

This translates into revenues of nearly $4.6 billion from 5.57 million visitors from the seven countries between July 2004 and June 2012, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

The association said visa waiver is a global trend and an effective tool to attract international tourists.

"Vietnam has rather high visa fees and it significantly increases our prices, making local tours less competitive and causing losses to the state budget anyway," it said.

It also asked for an extension to the stay for waiver beneficiaries from the current 15 days to possibly 30 days, as many tourists like Japanese seniors would like to stay for longer in the country.

Nguyen Thi Khanh, vice chairwoman of the association, was cited in a city television channel on May 8 as saying removing the waiver would hurt the economy in general.

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"If the government really cares about tourism development, there's no reason to cancel the waiver for tourists from several countries."

Tran Thi Viet Huong, deputy director of leading tourism company Viettravel, said the government should not consider the waiver a loss, but its investment to promote tourism in the country.

Nguyen Van Tran, general director of APEX tourism company, said his Japanese customers have been increasing steadily at 10 percent a year since 2004 to 76,000 at present. Tran said he is afraid that removal of the visa waiver will turn the tourists to other destinations in the region.

Figures from Vietnam Tourism Association show that the country received around 1.45 tourists from Japan, South Korea and Russia last year, a quarter of the total number of visitors, accounting for one-third of tourism revenues.

Under a regional agreement, citizens of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries do not need a visa to enter Vietnam.

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