Vietnam's visa waiver policy fails to give tourism a strong boost: report

Thanh Nien News

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A file photo of foreign tourists on a cyclo tour in Vietnam A file photo of foreign tourists on a cyclo tour in Vietnam


It has been two months since Vietnam started waiving visa for tourists from Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain.
But Ung Phuong Dung, director of Indochina Services Travel Group, told Saigon Times Online that around half of her clients from these five European countries still need a visa. 
They want to stay in Vietnam for at least three weeks, but the exemption period is only 15 days, she said. 
Dung is one of many tour operators who pointed out that the new visa policy, while helpful, has failed to give Vietnam's tourism industry a really strong boost, the news website reported.
Tran Trong Kien, CEO of travel and hospitality group Thien Minh, was quoted as saying it often takes more than 15 days to explore all major Vietnam's destinations, meaning that many tourists still have to apply for a visa anyway.
Some tourists who enter Vietnam and then visit neighboring countries also have to apply for a visa if they want to return to Vietnam within 30 days from their exit, he said.
The government wants to simplify procedures to welcome tourists, but the waiver's duration is "too short," thus making them feel that "Vietnam does not really open its door to international visitors," Kien said.
Delayed effects 
Many other travel companies said tourists from distant markets such as Europe often make travel plans half or one year in advance, meaning that the visa waiver rule will not really show its effects until next year.
They also said that nobody can be sure about the future of the one-year policy, which means they can not really plan far ahead. 
More than 5 million foreigners visited Vietnam in the January-August period, down 7.5 percent year-on-year, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).
Of all the five European countries newly added to Vietnam's visa waiver list, Spain was the biggest success, with a 8.5 percent increase in the number of visitors. 
Arrivals from Germany and Italy slightly increased by 1 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively, while those from France and the UK declined 4.6 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively.
Tour operators also complained that tourism authorities have yet to fulfill their promise about big promotion campaigns and national sales programs in order to help increase the visa waiver policy's effects.
Without making tourists in the target markets aware of the visa waiver rule, Vietnam will not be able to attract more tourists as it hopes, an unnamed representative of a travel company in Ho Chi Minh City said. 
Kien of Thien Minh Group also stressed that practical marketing programs are especially necessary, considering the policy's limited time.
He advised the authorities to bring promotion campaigns to Vietnam's neighboring countries such as Singapore and Thailand, where many Europeans are living.
With short distances thus easy and cheap trips, these European immigrants will likely benefit from the visa waiver policy the most, according to Kien.

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