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Obstacles in visa exemption policy must be removed to lure more int'l visitors

Since the beginning of the year, Vietnam has welcomed over 2.2 million international visitors, with Ho Chi Minh City alone welcoming more than 2 million foreign visitors.

However, compared to some countries, such as Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia, which have received over 7.56 million, 3.74 million, and 4.5 million arrivals, respectively, Vietnam's tourism recovery rate is still slow. Businesses and many management agencies explained that one of the reasons is the less attractive visa policies.

Foreign visitors experience the HCMC Vintage Vespa Tour. (Photo: SGGP)

Adjusting tours to suit the visa validity period

Visitors from the US, France, and Australia always consider Vietnam an attractive destination in terms of landscapes, culture, history, and cuisine. Middle-class tourists from many other countries also choose Vietnam as a tourist destination, and all have high spending levels, totaling about US$200 per person.

This is not a small amount of foreign currency in the context that many other industries are struggling to overcome difficulties to bring in foreign currency. However, these advantages are facing obstacles in visa procedures for tourists.

In the list of 25 countries with Vietnam visa exemption, only Panama and Chile have stays of up to 90 days. The next is Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Kyrgyzstan with 30 days. Particularly, for countries, such as England, France, Germany, South Korea, and Sweden, the visa-free period is only 15 days.

Josephine Barry, 60, a French tourist, said that the beauty of the rivers in Ho Chi Minh City, in particular, and the Mekong Delta, in general, is gorgeous. Her family is fond of small and beautiful handicrafts made from coconut trees, seashells, and water hyacinth stems. “We want to travel for 30 days to fully explore the beauty of our destination, but the visa exemption policy only allows a 15-day stay. If we want to stay, we have to pay an additional fee of about $40, which is not much, but we feel uncomfortable,” said Josephine Barry.

Citing the inadequacy of the visa policy, Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Toan, General Director of Image Travel & Events Company, specializing in welcoming European visitors, said that because the visa exemption policy for many European countries is only 15 days, the company must limit most of the tour products whose length exceed the visa-free period in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the majority of retired tourists think that it takes them at least 18-20 days to visit all places of Vietnam with the route from the Northern mountainous region, including Hanoi, Ha Long, and Ninh Binh, to Hue and Hoi An, and then to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. In short, tourism companies have had to adjust their tours to suit the visa period of visitors.

"Moreover, there are many visitors from different countries in a tourist group, and the visa-free periods are different, so there is often an uncomfortable psychology because they have to wait for each other," added Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Toan.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Travel & Tourism Council, when working with many Vietnamese tourism management agencies, said that if Vietnam created more favorable conditions for tourists to apply for visas, it would increase by about 10 percent of international arrivals compared to present, corresponding to a revenue of about $100 million.

This figure is much higher than the amount of $17 million reduced from the visa exemption for visitors. In addition, the Vietnamese economy can benefit three-fold revenue from serving these tourists through related services, such as restaurants, hotels, and shopping centers.

Extending visa exemption period, increasing advertising

To remove the visa bottleneck and facilitate the tourism industry to increase its competitiveness against neighboring countries, such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, Mr. Nguyen Son Thuy, Director of Indochina Unique Tourist Company, said that the e-visa approval system should shorten the time to within 24 hours; activate the pre-arrival review process by visa-on-arrival mechanism; prestigious travel agencies are designated to guarantee visitors to enter Vietnam and connect to the online filing system. Besides, the Government also needs to expand visa exemption for many nationalities with high safety factors, such as Nordic countries, European countries, and Australia.

More specifically, Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Toan proposed that it is necessary to exempt one-month visas many times for developed countries, which have a source of quality tourists. Visitors from developed countries often travel for a long time, and this is the current trend. Next is the issuance and collection of visa fees for three-month visas with simplified procedures to attract retired tourists who take long-stay vacations to escape Europe’s winter and use tourism services at homestays and community tours across Vietnam. The 3-month visa also takes advantage of the number of European and American interns who love Vietnam, expanding the image of Vietnam to the world through young intellectuals.

Director of the Department of Tourism of HCMC Nguyen Thi Anh Hoa said that the number of countries receiving Vietnam visa exemptions could not compete with countries in the region. For instance, Singapore exempts visas for 157 countries, Malaysia for 155 countries, and Thailand for 60 countries. Many developed countries in Europe and America with high-quality, long-stay, and high-spending tourists have not been included in the visa exemption list yet.

Therefore, the Department of Tourism, on November 25, sent a report to the Chairman of the HCMC People's Committee on the recovery of the tourism industry and proposed some contents to the Prime Minister to speed up the recovery rate, aiming at sustainable tourism development.

HCMC proposes to increase the visa exemption period to 30 days 

HCMC proposed ministries and sectors study and expand the list of countries eligible for visa exemptions; increase the visa exemption period from 15 days to at least 30 days to meet the need to stay for a long time of tourists from far away markets.

It is possible to study and apply the policy of special visa for a certain period in the year to promote international visitors to Vietnam at necessary times; extend the validity of the visa exemption policy to five years so that tourism companies and partners can develop long-term market exploitation plans; at the same time, there should be a policy to study and expand the electronic visa application to countries that have the ability and ready conditions.

Source: SGGP

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