Editor’s note: Luong Hoai Nam, former deputy head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, says the current visa policy is discouraging international tourists from visiting the country in his op-ed exclusively written for Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Nam’s piece of writing is particularly worth noticing at a time when Vietnam reported its tenth straight drop in tourism arrival number in March, according to the VNAT statistics.
The Vietnamese tourism visa policy, especially the complicated procedures to get a visa, is one of the import reasons why the number of international tourists visiting Vietnam did not increase but continuously shrank over the past time.
Local tourism authorities attributed the falling number arrivals in ten months in a row to the plunges of the Russian and Chinese markets, while the growths of other markets could not offset for such losses.
Such explanation, to me, is only partially correct.
Reality is that the tourism visa policy is a very significant hurdle for the growth of international tourism in Vietnam.
Complex visa rules; short exemption list
With nearly eight million international visitors a year, including those who come by road via the borders with China, Laos, and Cambodia and those who arrive for business and investment purposes, the number of tourist arrival to Vietnam is only equal to that of a single destination in Thailand, Pattaya. And it is lower than that of Phukhet.
Thailand rakes in US$60-65 billion from about 25 million international tourists it welcomes on an annual basis. The tourist arrivals of Hong Kong and Singapore are triple the figure of Vietnam.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons vacationers do not choose Vietnam is the country’s visa policy, especially its complicated procedures.
Holidaymakers do not mind paying a few dozens of U.S. dollars to get a visa, but they are indeed discouraged by complicated formality, and will thus travel to where they can enjoy a visa exemption, or get one on arrival.
Vietnam currently scraps visa for tourists from ASEAN countries, which is in fact not its major market. Besides, only seven countries, namely Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia, and Denmark, can visit Vietnam without visa requirements.
To compare, Thailand has a list of 48 countries exempt from visa requirements, whereas the respective figures for Singapore and China are 124 and 80 nations.
It is said that applying an easier visa rule will result in higher security risks for Vietnam. In fact, even when a visa-free policy is in place, any country has the right to refuse entry for any individual it deems inappropriate.
Therefore, I suggest expanding the list of countries exempt from visa requirements, and improve the visa applying procedures at the country’s border gates.
Tourists may have to pay more for the visa, but they should not be required to file an application prior to their journey via tour organizers and wait for approval, as currently do.
Finally, Vietnam should accept and approve visa applications online as many other countries are doing.
Lack investment for tourism promotion
Vietnam also has to invest more to improve the effectiveness of its tourism promotion campaigns outside the country.
The promotion activities should only be held in markets we want to target.
Thousands of festivals are held across Vietnam every year, which in fact do not have much meaning and contribute nothing to the goal of increasing the competitiveness of Vietnamese attractions compared to other countries.
Thailand earmarks $40 million to $50 million annually on promoting its tourism in international media and 27 overseas tourism promotion offices. The budgets of this activity of Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea are dozens of millions of U.S. dollars.
Cambodia spends a little less money, $3.5 million, but this is still way higher than Vietnam, $1.5 million.
The weak promotion activities obviously result in poor effectiveness.
Tourists choose where to travel first, before having any look on the service providers there.
So unless you manage to persuade vacationers to choose Vietnam as their destination, all of the efforts to sell services of local tour organizers are useless.
Vietnam should make its national tourism promotion system into a professional, knowledgeable one with strong financial muscle.
At a time of tight state budget, Vietnam should create new source of revenues for its tourism promotion task by applying the tourism fee via the hotel chains and international airlines, which is a common practice in many European, North American countries.
Paying an extra fee of $5 or $10 does for an overseas trip will not make vacationers to change their mind. What matters is the fee is collected and used in a transparent manner.
Besides the aforementioned issues, Vietnam should also improve the quality, price, infrastructure and environment of its tourism.
Should these issues remain unimproved, I don’t think Vietnam can revitalize its declining tourism, let alone seeing it grow healthily.
Do you think visa rules are really a hurdle to Vietnam’s tourism development? Send us your opinions via [email protected]