Vietnam’s visa waiver program has continued to pay off, giving the country an impressive surge in foreign arrivals during the first six months, but industry insiders are now waiting anxiously to find out what policymakers will do next.
The General Statistics Office said more than 4.7 million foreigners visited Vietnam, up 21.3 percent from the same period last year.
China remained the top market, followed by South Korea and Japan.
Japanese and South Korean visitors can visit Vietnam for up to 15 days without a visa. Arrivals from South Korean rose 34 percent from a year ago and Japan more than 12 percent.
Other markets that benefit from the same policy – Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the UK – saw increases of up to 30 percent.
Tourism revenues rose 22 percent year-on-year to more than VND200 trillion (US$9 billion). Officials are confident that the country can achieve the targets of 8.5 million foreign visitors this year and $370 trillion in revenues.
Despite the positive results, uncertainty lurks in the industry.
Representatives of many travel firms have expressed frustration while waiting for the government to make a decision on visa exemptions.
While the waiver rule will stay on through 2019 for certain markets, the visa-free policy for visitors from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK will expire on June 30.
Officials have been expected to extend the policy, but without a confirmation travel companies do not want to take risks.
Luu Duc Ke, director of a company in Hanoi, said the number of clients from the five European markets has increased 18 percent since the policy came into effect a year ago.
He told news website VnExpress that he could not make business plans for upcoming months.
The big problem would be to explain to his partners about the change of policy, he said.
Ke said the policy should continue as it does not only save tourists time and money, but also makes them feel welcome.
“Taking the visa-free policy will disappoint many tourists,” he said.
The tourism ministry in April proposed that the government extend the policy for five years and allow tourists to stay for 30 days.