Russian tourists on pilot vaccine passport programme to Khánh Hoà Province, Viet Nam.


In the latest report to the Government on the plan for Việt Nam’s full reopening of international tourism from March 15, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Sports has expressed its disagreements with some proposed COVID-19 related guidance that it considers cumbersome.

Made public on Friday, the report states the Government and Prime Minister have directed the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to propose a roadmap to safely reopen tourism activities from March 15, 2022.

After receiving comments from the Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs, Public Security, National Defence, Transport, Information and Communication, the tourism ministry has now completed its reopening plan.

All ministries have agreed on the time, requirements and organisation of the reopening in the draft plan. However, there are a number of different opinions on the safety protocols for visitors and some other issues that need instructions from the Prime Minister.

For example, the tourism ministry asks that tourists have a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to departure, while the health ministry proposes a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to entry.

The tourism ministry stated that at a workshop to discuss a roadmap and solutions to open up international tourism activities, held in collaboration with the National Board for Private Economic Development, the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), and the Việt Nam Tourism Association held on January 24, all opinions agreed with the 72 hours prior to departure requirement.

It said the regulation is more reasonable and practical, as tourists in remote markets have long flight times, or tourists may encounter delays, cancellations or late connecting flights, so it is not recommended that tourists have negative test results within 72 hours prior to entry.

The health ministry in the latest proposals also wants tourists to remain at their accommodation – in essence, quarantined – for the first 24 hours after arrival, and ask them to not leave the place of accommodation in the first 72 hours (they could travel outside with daily negative tests), which has drawn widespread criticism from travel companies and market experts who deem the protocol too inconvenient and likely to turn away prospective tourists.

The tourism ministry instead wants foreign tourists to go straight to their place of accommodation after entry via air and take a COVID-19 test within the first 24 hours. If the result is negative, they could freely travel and take part in tourism activities. If the result is positive appropriate measures will be taken. Tourists entering Việt Nam via land, rail and sea routes can obtain a test at the border gate (rapid antigen test). If their test returns negative they are free to travel, without having to undergo quarantine.

This relaxed requirement aims to create equality for foreign tourists, not to cause discrimination in the COVID-19 protocols between international and domestic tourists, and create conditions to attract tourists from other countries to Việt Nam. Furthermore, tourists arriving on sea routes usually only go sightseeing according to the day tour programme, according to the tourism ministry.

Before entering Việt Nam, tourists must already meet the following conditions: having received full two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with the last dose received within at least 14 days and not more than 6 months by the time of entry; and having negative test results for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR/RT-LAMP method within 72 hours before departure.

The public security ministry has sought to have tourism and hospitality agencies build a plan to develop procedures for a safe welcoming of tourists, and to get reviews and approval from agencies, which the tourism ministry also took issue with.

They do not want this item in the reopening plan, arguing that another administrative procedure for tourism businesses during the reopening process is ill-advised. Plans for welcoming tourists having to be approved by authorities should only be the cases during the pilot reopening phase, and when the full reopening period has started, only tourism businesses that have passed related regulations are allowed to operate and welcome foreign tourists anyway.

To ensure the safe reopening of tourism activities in the new normal, the tourism ministry also proposed the Prime Minister pay attention to a number of important tasks, including the resumption of pre-pandemic entry visa policies for foreigners, completing the COVID-19 epidemic prevention and control application (PC-COVID) to support tourists during their stay in Việt Nam, and completing relevant systems to be able to issue COVID-19 vaccine certificates as soon as possible, to facilitate Vietnamese people’s overseas travels.

Travel agencies concerned over new testing policies for int'l arrivals

While Việt Nam is determined to reopen for international tourists from March 15, a new proposal from the Ministry of Health is raising concerns among travel agencies. 

One of the draft regulations requires tourists to stay at their accommodation for the first 24 hours of entering Việt Nam.

It is also recommended that tourists do not go outside during the first 72 hours. If they do (after the first day), they will need to get tested for SARS-CoV-2 every day until the end of the 72-hour period.

The proposal has been met with concern from experts and businesses in the tourism sector.

According to Nguyễn Đức Chí, former deputy head of the Travel Management Division (under HCM City Department of Tourism), statistics from the health ministry revealed that on March 1, international arrivals only accounted for around 0.02 per cent of the daily national caseload (98,743 infections). 

This means that it is tourists who should be worried about the risk of infection when they come to Việt Nam, not the other way around, he said.

Sharing the same opinion, Nguyễn Châu Á, director of tour operator Oxalis, emphasised that the new document was an obstacle to inbound tourism resumption starting March 15, he said to Vietnamnet.

Director of Images Travel & Events Nguyễn Ngọc Toản also commented that the proposed regulation was a move ‘against growth’.

Phạm Hà, chairman of Lux Group, told Vietnam News Agency that post-arrival travel restrictions and policy inconsistency could lead to failures in attracting international tourists. 

He added that neighbouring country Thailand has already removed numerous obstacles for inbound tourists, with few travel restrictions after arrival. 

With major global changes and the complicated outbreak in Việt Nam, many travel agencies believed that it would be difficult to have international tourists when the country reopens in less than two weeks.

Phạm Hà raised concerns that if the country still "opens little by little’ like right now, there is a high chance that there would be no inbound tourists.

He pointed out that there would likely be fewer visitors from Russia, one of the major markets for Việt Nam's tourism, due to the ruble's drop in value and the Russia - Ukraine conflict.

Meanwhile, tourists from East Asian countries would not arrive until the third quarter or later, depending on their reopening policies.

It was also predicted that there would not be many visitors from the US, one of the markets with high purchasing power, as its CDC issued a warning against travelling to Việt Nam.

Hà believed that Việt Nam’s tourism sector now could only rely on neighbouring ASEAN countries, and a few countries in Europe and Oceania where flight routes have resumed.

He said: "When we open on March 15, I think that there won't be international tourists yet. 

"Our agency has been promoting sailing tours since June last year, but we have not put up the price list for fear of policy changes.

"Welcoming international arrivals also depends on visa and quarantine policies. So in the best-case scenario, it will not be until the third quarter of this year that we have customers coming in."

Concerned that policies will continue to change, Image Travel & Events declined to receive international tourists for the months of April and May, said its director Toản. 

Meanwhile, tour operator Oxalis said it would not focus on inbound tourism in 2022 due to the uncertainty in reopening plans.

According to Việt Nam Tourism Association, pilot programmes for international tourists, which started in November last year, did not meet expectations.

Among the reasons cited are urgent programme announcements, and a strict quarantine policy.

Tourists are still concerned over discrimination between domestic and inbound tourists in pandemic control.

Meanwhile, travel agencies, afraid that policies will continue to change, are reluctant in promoting their tours.

Source: VNS

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