Improving competitiveness of Vietnamese tourism

The Government has agreed to continue to extend the visa exemption policy by an additional year for citizens from five Western European countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Vietnam welcomed 781,000 visitors from the five Western European countries in 2016. (Credit: hanoimoi)
Vietnam welcomed 781,000 visitors from the five Western European countries in 2016. (Credit: hanoimoi)

This is the third consecutive year the policy has been implemented, removing the anxiety and embarrassment of numerous travel enterprises, as well as tourism management agencies.

According to the statistics of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the visa exemption for visitors from five Western European countries has brought economic benefits for Vietnam. During the 2010-2014 period, the number of visitors from these countries to Vietnam increased by 5.35 percent on average. However, since the visa exemption was applied in July 2015, Vietnam welcomed 781,000 visitors from the five Western European countries in 2016, up 19% over the previous year.

The total added revenue from this segment reached more than US$238 million. In the first four months of this year, the total number of tourists from these countries was nearly 333,000, an annual increase of 15 percent. Therefore, the visa exemption for citizens from five Western European countries is believed to be a driving force for the country’s tourism sector to further promote the growth in the number of foreign visitors to Vietnam.

The policy also showed the attention of the Party and State to the tourism development as well as closely followed the orientation of ‘creating conditions on visa for international visitors to Vietnam, which was adopted at the Politburo’s Resolution No. 08-NQ/TW on developing tourism into a spearhead economic sector.

However, many experts said that if the extension of visa exemption is applied in a short-term manner, management agencies, enterprises and even visitors, will face challenges in implementing their plans. It will take at least three to five years to make business promotion strategies for distant markets like Western European countries effective. Visitors from these countries have to set plans for holidays early (usually half a year in advance); therefore, over the last few years, the short-term visa exemption only focused on attracting odd visitors. In addition, the extension was decided too close to the expiry date of the visa exemption, which has made travel enterprises passive in providing clear information to visitors and partners.

Many other experts also stated that the Government's permission to visa exemption, for no more than 15 days for citizens from the five Western European countries, has not been enough to stimulate the visitors’ purchase of tours as well as staying plans.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2017’s Tourism Competitiveness Report, Vietnam ranked the lowest in ASEAN and 73rd out of 136 participating countries and territories for International Openness. The country stood at 116th in terms of visa requirements, which is one of three International Openness’s indicators.

Currently, Vietnam applies visa exemption for citizens in only 22 countries; meanwhile Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand exempt visas for 158, 155 and 61 countries and territories, respectively. Therefore, in recent times, central and local management agencies, the advisory councils and the tourism associations proposed that the Government expand the list of countries enjoying visa exemption in order to improve the competitiveness of Vietnamese tourism.

The visa exemption policy for citizens from five Western European countries has resulted in an estimated US$21.6 million in visa fee deficit in the first year since it was applied (July 2015); however the added revenue from the increase of visitors reached US$126 million. Nearly two years of the implementation of the visa exemption is enough to assert the financial benefits of simplifying visa policy.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has asked the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to coordinate with relevant ministries and agencies to build plans to continue to apply visa exemptions for countries which have a large number of citizens visiting Vietnam, as well as implement e-visa applications to submit to the Government and the PM. Accordingly, the tourism sector expects that there will be long-term, stable and expanded visa policies.