Because of strict visa policies, promotions to attract international tourists have not been as effective as expected, according to many businesses.
Enterprises have made huge investments to welcome back tourists, but such illogical visa policies may slow down the tourism recovery pace.
Being confused and facing difficulties
Many travel companies in Da Nang City told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that visa policies for foreign tourists were still their biggest concern.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Vietnam offered the visa waiver policy for citizens of many countries and the normal visa approval period was three to five days (visas which were valid for 30 days).
However, the list of countries whose citizens are entitled to Vietnam's visa waiver policy has been shortened and the visa processing period has been lengthened, putting enterprises at a disadvantage.
Cao Tri Dung, chairman of the Da Nang Tourism Association, said that after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of independent tourists visiting Vietnam increased.
At present, tourists from countries which have yet to be offered the visa waiver policy must have local guarantors. Most foreign tourists have found the requirement unattainable as they do not know who can offer them the guarantee.
In addition, independent tourists now apply for visas online but the specific visa processing and granting period is not regulated, so tourists cannot take the initiative.
Many tourists bought air tickets but then canceled their tours because of late visa issuance.
For the long term, if the regulation that tourists from many countries, including many large source markets of the local tourism sector, must apply for visas remains in place, it will be a hindrance for the attraction of international tourists and reduce the competitiveness of the local tourism sector, Dung added.
According to the Private Economic Development Research Board (Board IV) under the Advisory Council for Administrative Procedure Reform, as of April this year, the number of international arrivals to Vietnam had reached half of the target.
It is hard to make a breakthrough to reach the target of five million foreign guests this year.
A study of the Tourism Advisory Board revealed that besides objective factors, medical regulations in Vietnam do not facilitate tourists, including those on the use of the PC-COVID app and travel insurance.
Visa policies remain unreasonable. Many visa waiver incentives have yet to satisfy the demand in the new period and remain uncompetitive with those of other regional countries.
As for e-visas, the function of giving the specific time to respond to tourists' applications has not been made available and reasons for the refusal of their applications will not be explained.
Increasing investment to welcome international visitors
Many household businesses and enterprises have been increasing their investment to welcome international travelers.
Hoai Anh, owner of a restaurant in Da Nang City, said she had to pawn one of her branches to have money to pay space rentals and retain some high-skilled employees to wait for the tourism recovery.
She sometimes thought of another means of living, especially amid the fourth COVID-19 wave.
She happily shared that: "Amid the pandemic, I just expected a busy day. Even though I am busy until 2:00 am these days, I am very happy. Gloomy days please do not come back again."
She has raised the investment in her restaurant by nearly VND1 billion ($43,218) to serve more international guests.
All of the preparations during the hibernation period have been made to welcome more international tourists.
Da Nang is still jubilant with the B'estival beer festival at Sun World Ba Na Hills, where tourists can see new sculptures at the Helios Waterfall and mingle with the show "The Battle of the Moon Kingdom."
According to Pham Quoc Quan, Sun Group chairman in the southern region, to attract international tourists, Sun Group has repeatedly coordinated with its partners to organize fam trips and press trips to take journalists and TikTokers from Thailand to Ba Na in Da Nang, Hon Thom (Pineapple Islet) in Phu Quoc and Ha Long in Quang Ninh.
"We have a plan to hold roadshows in key international markets, such as South Korea, Thailand, Japan and other Southeast Asian countries," Quan shared.
Concern over disrupted recovery
Nguyen Huu Y Yen, general director of Saigontourist Travel Service Company, stressed that the slow reinstatement of pre-pandemic visa policies might disrupt the recovery of enterprises.
"We expect to resume tours to Europe, Australia or Singapore this summer, and tours to Japan and South Korea in the autumn, and boost the attraction of international visitors in October.
"The offering and promotion of tourism products will also follow this roadmap. However, if the current entry regulations remain unchanged, the sector will find it hard to recover as expected," said Yen.
Huynh Phan Phuong Hoang, deputy general director of Vietravel, said that the greatest hindrance to the recovery of businesses and the tourism sector was visa policies.
"Even South Korea has announced visa exemptions for Vietnamese tourists to its two destinations from June 1," Hoang informed.
Nguyen Thi Khanh, chairwoman of the Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Association, shared the view that foreign tourists were closely related to visa policies.
She pointed out some obstacles, such as difficulties in the e-visa application, unclear procedures and higher visa fees at Vietnamese border gates compared with the fees in other countries.
Visa-related procedures need simplifying
At present, the time of the response to e-visa applications is not provided. Board IV suggested the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Security develop visa and e-visa policy improvement plans.
Specifically, Vietnam should offer a visa waiver policy to potential markets, such as the U.S., India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands; and extend the visa exemption period for citizens from distant markets, such as Europe, from 15 to 30 days.
Vietnam should apply multiple-entry visas and prolong the visa waiver period, cut paperwork and procedures for travel companies or tourists, and simplify e-visa and visa requirements for border crossings.
Visa-related bottlenecks should be removed soon
Bui Quoc Dai, deputy CEO of Anex Vietnam Travel and Trading Company Limited, said that e-visa granting procedures for Russian tourists were complicated as the visa granting fee of about $25, regulated by Vietnam Immigration Department, was paid online.
However, Russian tourists cannot pay the fee as their international online payments have been blockaded (as Russian banks are subject to sanctions from western countries).
Additionally, Dai suggested extending the visa waiver period from 15 to 30 days and applying multiple-entry visas.
Most countries in the region offer visa-free travel for foreign tourists for 30 days or more.
As a case in point, Thailand issues 60-day tourist multiple-entry visas. Meanwhile, tourists to Indonesia can apply for 30-day visas and get an extension before expiry.
In addition to offering the visa waiver policy to citizens of more countries, Vietnam should take the initiative in working with other countries so that they offer visa exemptions to Vietnamese people in return, said Nguyen Thi Le Thanh, director of the Khanh Hoa Department of Tourism.
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