Foreign arrivals to Vietnam have dropped for the first time in six years as the country lost a large number of visitors from neighboring markets while its expanded visa waiver program failed to have a strong impact on European travelers.
The General Statistics Office estimated that 7.94 million foreigners visited Vietnam this year, down 0.2 percent from 2014. That was the first annual decline since 2009, as the recent recovery was not enough to offset the huge drops in arrivals seen in early months.
Vietnam lost up to 44 percent of visitors from some of its key Asian markets, including a 8.5 percent decline from China.
It enjoyed an impressive 31.3 percent jump in South Korea tourists, who benefit from a visa waiver policy that took effect at the beginning of the year.
However, a similar policy had a weaker impact on the European market, with arrivals from Europe increasing 7 percent, to more than 1.3 million.
While tourists from the UK increased 5.2 percent and Germany 4.7 percent, arrivals from France and Sweden and Russia went down.
The Russian market fell 7.1 percent after many years of being a bright spot of the country’s tourism. Travel firms said it was the best they could expect given the fall of the ruble, and that they are not confident the market will bounce back next year yet.
Tourists from all of these European country can visit Vietnam visa-free.
This has been a problematic year for tourism because of economic problems, conflicts and aviation safety issues, Thoi bao Kinh Te Saigon Online reported, citing travel companies.
Some said it is even worse than in 2009 when the industry was hit by the global financial crisis or in 2003 by the deadly SARS.
No good sign ahead
Ngo Minh Duc, director of a company in Ho Chi Minh City, told the newspaper that while the economy has not fully recovered, the terrorism incidents in Europe and escalating tension in the Middle East have discouraged travel demand even more.
“2016 will be another year full of challenges,” Duc said.
He said new visa polices need more time to bring in tourists. Right now, they are not enough for Vietnam to compete with other destinations in the region. Thailand, for instance, is expected to receive the record of more than 29.6 million visitors this year, up 20 percent, even amid security concerns caused by the Bangkok bomb blast.
Bui Viet Thuy Tien, managing director of the Vietnam office of Asian Trails, which operates in eight Southeast Asian countries, said she has not come up with specific business plans for next year.
“The market depends on social and economic situations,” she said.
“But there’s no optimistic signs at the present.”
According to local media, the National Administration of Tourism aims to attract 8.5 million foreign arrivals in 2016 and 10.5 million in 2020.