Sunday , June 23 2024

Vietnam’s visa policy a tourism bottleneck one year after reopening: insiders


Despite continuous calls to ease visa requirements for international tourists, nothing has changed after a year of reopening and the tourism industry continues to face challenges, experts said.

Tran Nguyen, sales director of giant hospitality company and property developer Sun Group, said officials and businesses talked a lot about visa hassles but still have not seen any changes a year after reopening.

“Without timely changes, Vietnam could fall far behind regional neighbors in the tourism recovery race as several Southeast Asian countries have already relaxed tourist visa regulations to attract international visitors, Tran said at a seminar hosted last week by Thanh Nien Newspaper.

Vietnam waives visas for travelers from 25 countries compared to 162 for Malaysia, 157 for the Philippines and 68 for Thailand. It also offers a one-month single-entry e-visa to visitors from 80 countries.

The multi-entry three-month visa that was available before Covid has not been brought back yet.

As a result, the number of foreign visitors coming to Vietnam remains low, while Southeast Asian neighbors have already posted strong recoveries against pre-pandemic levels.

Luong Hoai Nam, a member of the Tourism Advisory Board, said Vietnam’s visa policy remains strict compared to other countries, making it difficult for the aviation and tourism industries to take off.

He proposed the government consider granting visa exemptions to 68 countries and territories as Thailand did and prolong the visa-free stay from 15 to 30 days. Instead of just granting a single-entry e-visa, Vietnam should offer multiple-entry visas for tourists as it did in pre-pandemic times to compete with neighboring countries.

Nam added that Vietnam should have a bilateral visa exemption policy agreement with the United States, China and India with a term of 5-10 years.

Pham Trung Luong, former head of the Institute for Tourism Development Research, said relaxing visa requirements should be the top priority at this time to help tourism quickly recover.

In addition to the visa issue, Luong hopes the government will approve the opening of more direct routes to some large tourism markets.

Despite being one of the first Southeast Asian countries to fully reopen to international tourism post Covid, Vietnam only received 3.6 million foreign tourists last year, around 20% of pre-pandemic levels.

Many foreign tourists have complained about Vietnam’s current visa policy, saying the 30-day stay is too restrictive and that they did not have enough time to visit remote parts of the country.

German travel blogger Leoni Becker, who visited Vietnam last year, said she only had a maximum stay of 30 days and could not visit more places in Vietnam as she had hoped.

Justin Douglas, an American, expected Vietnam to return to the former three-month visa policy to give tourists more time to explore remote parts of the country.

“One thing I never got a chance to do before the pandemic was to make a bicycle trip around Sa Pa and Ha Giang,” he said. “It would be very difficult to do a trip like that in 30 days, which requires ample time to prepare in Hanoi beforehand and time to relax afterward.”

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