Nationals from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK have become next visitors who can enter Vietnam without a visa under a resolution signed by the Prime Minister on June 17.
Under the resolution, starting July, citizens of these five European countries can stay visa-free up to 15 days within one year.
Foreign tourists experience community-based tours in Sa Pa (Lao Cai province)__Photo: Thanh Ha/VNA
The introduction of the resolution brings the number of countries enjoying Vietnam’s unilateral visa exemption to 13, including Japan, South Korea, Norway, Finland, Demark, Sweden, Russia, and Belarus which also enjoys the visa waiver starting July. It also frees visas for travellers from nine Southeast Asian countries under a regional agreement. Last March, the Government also scrapped visas for foreign visitors to Phu Quoc island in the Mekong delta province of Kien Giang for a stay of up to 30 days. Those who transit at an international border gate on the way to Phu Quoc also enjoy this visa exemption.
The resolution followed the Government’s approval of a package of proposals made by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to reduce entry formalities for international tourists in a move to boost tourism.
The proposals include visa waiver for visitors from Vietnam’s key tourism markets and close partners, reduction of visa fees, application of e-visa and creation of a tourism development fund.
Other countries proposed to enjoy free entry rules include India which has strategic partnerships with Vietnam; and Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which are the country’s comprehensive partners, General Director of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) Nguyen Van Tuan said.
The visa waiver was set to lure back foreign tourists the number of whom had plunged every month since last June. According to the General Statistics Office, foreign arrivals in May reached nearly 576,900, down 16.4% from April and 14.4% year-on-year. March also saw a record year-on-year drop of 23.4% to 543,000 foreign arrivals, which fell nearly 30% from February. In the first five months of this year, the country received nearly 3,275,200 foreign arrivals, a 12.6% year-on-year decrease.
Addressing the 2015 Mekong Tourism Conference opened in Da Nang city on June 18, Tuan said the visa waiver was great news for the tourism industry, praising the Government’s efforts to facilitate tourism development.
Van Thi Bach Tuyet, director of Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Department, said visa waiver for more countries was necessary to boost tourism, stressing visa exemption would help not only make Vietnam a friendly and attractive destination but also bolster the competitiveness of domestic travel firms in the region.
Free entry would create tourism development chances, Viet Media Travel General Director Tran Van Long said, comparing the tourist visa fee of USD 45 with thousands of US dollars a tourist would spend on a visit. According to the General Statistics Office, a foreigner spends an average USD 1,200-USD 2,500 when staying in Vietnam.
Nguyen Huu Tho, chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, told the Tuoi Tre (Youth) online visa waiver for additional countries was inevitable for Vietnam as the country was to compete with other regional tourism destinations.
Tuan said Vietnam’s high visa fees and complicated formalities made the country less competitive in luring tourists, saying visa ease was one of the priorities for other regional countries to woo visitors.
Currently visitors to Vietnam must pay a visa fee of USD 45, much higher than USD 30 in Cambodia, Laos or Indonesia. Foreign tourists are also discouraged by time- and energy-consuming procedures to get a visa with a burden of papers like copies of passports, air tickets, hotel reservation contracts and even tour guide cards.
At present, Singapore frees visas for 158 countries; the Philippines, 157; Malaysia 155; and Thailand, 66. The regional peers also apply an effective and tourist-friendly visa application system. Myanmar, for instance, applies e-visa application with a convenient credit card payment system while Laos and Cambodia allow visitors to get visas upon arrival at a border checkpoint after paying a fee in cash or online without having to fill in any application.
Last year, Malaysia led ASEAN member countries in attracting foreign arrivals with over 27.4 million, followed by Thailand with over 24.7 million and Singapore, over 15 million, the The Thao Van Hoa (Sports and Culture) online reported.
According to VNAT, the visa waiver granted to Russia, Japan, and South Korea had paid off as vacationers from these countries had risen sharply. The number of tourists from these countries had surged 352% from 529,000 in 2004, to 1,861,000 in 2014 when the visa-free rule was applied, making up 23.6% Vietnam’s total tourist arrivals last year. In detail, holidaymakers from Japan and South Korea had since increased 2.4 times and 3.6 times, respectively while Russian visitors to Vietnam in 2014 were 7.45 times higher. The number of tourists from the seven countries freed from visas (excluding Belarus) accounted for 40-50% of the total foreign arrivals to Vietnam.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Vu Hong Nam said visa waiver should not be considered the lifebuoy to revive the tourism industry and the waiver needed a roadmap with careful consideration to avoid risks.
Speaking with Voice of Vietnam (VOV), Nam said the quality of tourist products and services were crucial to attract visitors, citing major tourist destinations such as Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, South Korea and China which were in fact ranked poorly in terms of visa policy openness.
Nam said the opinion blaming visa as the barrier to tourism should be reconsidered, pointing out last year reported high foreign arrivals as compared with this year when the visa policy was even easier, with the introduction of the new Immigration Law in January.
Foreign arrivals to Vietnam in May and first five months of 2015
Source: General Statistics Office
He said the visa application system had been improved over the last few years, which was ranked 15th by the World Economic Forum among 140 countries. The time to get a visa was shortened to just one or two days from one or two weeks in the past, he said, adding there were also not many requirements regarding insurance, finance and personal identity.
He cited the world economic downturn as a reason behind the fall in the number of foreign tourists. Vietnam’s major tourism markets such as Russia, China and European countries had their own problems. The depreciation of the ruble and euro had largely affected the payment capacity of Russian and European visitors while China’s deployment of a giant oil rig in Vietnam’s waters last May had resulted in the cancellation of Vietnam-bound tours from China, Nam said.
But he agreed barriers to tourism, including visa-related issues, should be removed, taking into account security issues and emergency circumstances such as epidemics as well as diplomatic ties between Vietnam and other countries in order to avoid inequality in visa exemption.- (VLLF)