Tuesday , February 7 2023

Government urged to remove visa hassles to rejuvenate tourism, airline industries


The tourism and aviation industries have again urged the government to ease visa requirements to speed up recovery post-Covid.

Despite being one of the first Southeast Asian countries to fully reopen to international tourism, Vietnam is now at the bottom of a recovery ranking in the region, according to the Tourism Advisory Board.

Its international tourism recovery rate as against pre-pandemic levels is only 18.1%, far behind neighbors such as Singapore (30.9%), Malaysia (27.5%), Cambodia (26.3%), Indonesia (22.9%), the Philippines (22.1%), and Thailand (22%).

Chris Farwell of the TAB said at a conference Friday that Vietnam has failed to take advantage of its early reopening due to visa issues, Giao Thong newspaper reported.

This year it would only get around 3.5 million international visitors, much lower than its target of five million, he said.

But other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia have achieved their targets, he pointed out.

He urged the government to waive visa requirements for more countries and prolong visitors’ visa-free stays to 30-45 days to provide impetus to the recovery.

Now there is visa exemption for nationals of 24 countries for stays of 15-30 days, except for Chile’s who got 90 days, and a one-month single-entry e-visa to visitors from 80 other countries.

Farwell called for expanding the list of countries whose nationals can get visas online and simplifying e-visa procedures.

The 30-day single-entry e-visas are offered to citizens of countries and territories like Australia, India, the U.K., and the U.S.

Luong Hoai Nam, a member of TAB, said Vietnam is less open than its neighbors, only waiving visas for travelers from 24 countries compared to Thailand’s 65.

Industry insiders agreed that Vietnam should follow in Thailand’s footsteps and exempt visas for more nationals, especially of major tourism markets like the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India.

Dinh Viet Phuong, managing director of low-cost airline Vietjet, said visa barriers should be lifted as soon as possible.

The carrier has recently launched new direct routes to Indian cities to tap into the world’s second most populous market to make up for the shortage of visitors from traditional markets such as China.

But visas remain a major barrier to attracting Indian tourists, and this issue should be resolved as soon as possible so that the aviation and tourism industries could recover quickly, she said.

Vietnam opened its borders on March 15 but the number of foreign visitors in the first 11 months of the year was a modest 2.95 million.

In the year before the pandemic began, 2019, it had received 18 million foreign visitors.

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