Vietnam wastes its chances at international tourism fairs while hindering vacationers with complicated visa rules, as industry insiders name more reasons to explain why the country has seemingly become less attractive to tourists worldwide.
Attending such high-profile international tourism exhibition as the ITB Berlin Convention is a precious opportunity for any country to give its tourism industry a boost.
But Vietnam always throws away the chance despite its frequent attendance at what is known as the world’s leading travel trade show, according to Vu The Binh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Travel Association (VITA).
“Vietnam used to open one common booth for its travel agencies and airlines at the ITB events, but the way it was organized was always unscientific,” said Binh, who is also the former head of the travel department of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).
National flag carrier Vietnam Airlines used to be in charge of the Vietnam booth at the tourism fairs, but there were times when other travel companies and carriers refused to join the mutual booth.
“So what Vietnam showed to the world at the ITB was an empty, lifeless booth,” he said.
Starting this year, VNAT was in charge of Vietnam’s ITB booth, but Binh is pessimistic about the situation improving.
“The VNAT will assign different departments under its umbrella to join the exhibition in turn,” he said. “So when will we be able to have experienced experts with deep tourism knowledge represent Vietnam at the events?”
The way Vietnam promotes its tourism attractions and services at the international travel fairs is also way behind its global counterparts, the VITA official added.
“We hardly deploy any technology for the promotions,” he said. “We only use simple slideshows or short video clips to introduce the beauty of our nature and countryside or cultural heritage, while other countries wow visitors with their modern, hi-tech and interactive displays.”
The ITB Berlin 2015 took place from March 4 to 8, attracting 10,096 exhibitors from 186 countries, according to the event’s website.
Luong Hoai Nam, director of seaplane operator Hai Au Aviation, returned from the event with a bitter remark.
“Vietnam promoted the tourism potential of its whole country on premises even smaller than those of a single Thai province [at the event],” Nam said.
Vietnam also lacks other promotional activities besides the travel exhibitions, such as on foreign tourism TV channels or magazines, as other countries do, he added.
“Vietnam does not stand out from other countries at the ITB, and it lacks a clear tourism identity,” he concluded.
Rigid visa rules
The unnecessarily strict visa procedures Vietnam demands from some countries have apparently driven tourists from these markets away.
Takahiko Ohata, chairman of the Overseas Tour Operators Association of Japan (OTOA), said fewer Japanese tourists have chosen to visit Vietnam due to the inconvenient visa policy, which has become a headache for both the association and its Vietnamese partners.
Japanese holidaymakers used to be able to enter Vietnam and enjoy a 15-day stay without a visa, according to the Japanese chairman.
This enabled tourists from the East Asian country to fly to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, stay there a few days before visiting the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, and spend the last day in Vietnam before returning home, Ohata said.
But under a new visa rule that took effect on January 1, Japanese vacationers have to apply for a visa to enter Vietnam in order to follow that itinerary, he added.
The visa application costs at least VND1.26 million (roughly US$60).
Ohata said money is not an issue but the problem is Japanese tourists will have to waste time completing the visa procedure for a journey on which they used to enjoy many preferential treatments.
The holidaymakers will therefore choose to fly to Bangkok and then visit Cambodia instead, he added.
Even when tourists opt to apply for a visa on arrival, the procedure is no simpler, according to the Japanese official.
Tourists are required to fill in the online visa application form, wait to get the application code, and present it to authorities at the airport to be able to get their visa, Ohata elaborated.
Ohata said these policies do not encourage Japanese vacationers to visit Vietnam.
The OTOA has complained to the Vietnamese Embassy in Japan about the issue but was told that things cannot be changed, he said.