The six ASEAN member states to be involved in the scheme are Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The Schengen-type visa initiative is expected to stimulate regional travel demand, according to Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who proposed the idea about two months ago.

Although it offers plenty of benefits to the Vietnamese tourism industry, experts believe that the scheme also presents many challenges.

Strong support from travel firms

Many travel companies have voiced their strong support for the initiative. Nguyen Son Thuy, general director of Duy Nhat Indochina Tourism Co. Ltd., described the single visa initiative as excellent, saying that if realised, it has the potential to bring about clear benefits to both travel firms and travelers.

“Vietnam has eased visas for foreign visitors since August 15, 2023, bringing about good results. The more favourable the visa, the more visitors will come. This means the visa policy makes a positive influence on the tourism industry,” explained Thuy.

Meanwhile, Pham Ha, CEO of Lux Group, expressed great appreciation for the Thailand-initiated scheme which he said is a long-awaited plan that presents an opportunity for Vietnam to attract even more foreign visitors.

In his opinion, Thailand, which is expected to attract 80 million foreign visitors by 2027, is considered the gateway for visitors to enter Southeast Asia, and Vietnam is set to benefit from this plan.

“If the single visa policy is approved by the six countries, the number of visitors, especially those with high spending, to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam will increase sharply,” analysed the CEO.

Welcoming this proposal, Cao Tri Dung, chairman of the Da Nang Tourism Association, said that the scheme represents a breakthrough in immigration procedures. If it is approved then it will serve to demonstrate the country’s level of development in the region.

He said that the introduction of the single visa policy will further boost road travel amongst the six countries. As the five other selected countries all share either land or sea borders with Thailand, visitors traveling by road only need to apply for a visa once in order to enter any country.

Scheme not easy to be realized

A representative of the Vietnam National Authority of Tourism (VNAT), speaking in an interview with Phap Luat (Law) newspaper of Ho Chi Minh City, voiced his support for the scheme, but noted many issues related to political stability, security, defence, and diplomacy need to be addressed amongst the six countries.

He also doubted the feasibility of the policy in reality, recalling that the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) which comprises Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, has several times proposed a joint visa initiative, although such a plan has yet to be implemented so far. 

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Pham Hong Long of University of Social Sciences and Humanities, pointed out several major challenges which need to be overcome by the six countries before the idea comes true. According to him, the current different visa policies represent a big obstacle to the six countries.

“Vietnam’s visa policy has been more streamlined in recent times, but it is not significant in comparison with Thailand’s. To realize the scheme, the six countries should find the common voice regarding the list of countries eligible for this visa. Advantages will outnumber disadvantages if the obstacle is removed,” analysed the senior lecturer. 

He also said that a free visa area requires a strict security management system to ensure safety for tourists as well as local people. In addition, tour connections, the quality of products and services, and human resources training should all be taken into account to ensure travelers stay longer, spend more, and return in the future.

Speaking at a recent press briefing on a tourism stimulus programme, Ha Van Sieu, deputy head of the VNAT, stressed that the free visa area model will be developed into a global trend in the future, but countries should negotiate to reach a common consensus. He assured that Vietnam, a proactive, positive, and responsible member of the international community, will consider participating in joint activities which are appropriate to the country’s situation.