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It’ll take Vietnam a long time to ease visa rules, insiders say

Monday, April 20, 2015, 10:21 GMT+7

While most of those working in Vietnam’s tourist industry agree that granting visa exemption to more countries will lure more visitors to Vietnam, the country’s tourism administration has said that is going to take a really long time.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Industry insiders spoke to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper following an op-ed by Luong Hoai Nam, former deputy head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), who said the strict visa rule is hindering the country’s tourism from being attractive to worldwide vacationers.

The Ho Chi Minh City Travel Association recently called on the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism to transfer its proposal to the central government, asking to add 12 markets to the list of countries exempt from Vietnamese visas.

Vietnam currently scraps visas for tourists from the ten-country ASEAN bloc, besides seven other countries, namely Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia, and Denmark.

“We want to add Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Brazil, India, Ukraine, Latvia, and Estonia to the list,” Nguyen Thi Khanh, deputy chairwoman of the association, told Tuoi Tre.

These countries are “very potential markets” for Vietnam’s tourism, as holidaymakers there are willing to stay long and spend more money in the Southeast Asian country, Khanh said.

These markets will boost tourism revenue and economic growth as well as contribute to enhancing the Vietnamese tourism competitiveness in comparison with other regional countries.

“Waiving visas for tourists from these countries will help attract a huge number of international visitors to Vietnam in the future,” she added.

Thailand has a list of 48 countries exempt from visa requirements, whereas the respective figures for Singapore and China are 124 and 80 nations.

Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the VNAT, which is managed by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, said the issue is now beyond the administration’s ability.

“We already received the proposition from the Ho Chi Minh City Travel Association, but all we could do was forward it to the central government,” Tuan said.

Upon receiving the proposal, the government has assigned the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to consider it.

“So the issue is now in the hands of these ministries,” Tuan said, adding a quick solution should not be expected.

The VNAT also wants the visa rule to be less complicated and “it would be great if we can scrap visas for as many countries as possible,” the director told Tuoi Tre.

“But the consideration and approval of this proposition entail many factors and need a road map [for realization],” he admitted.

Visa exemption a plus for tourism

Le Hoang Khanh Long, deputy director of Exxotissimo Vietnam, a travel organizer known for its Asia tour packages, said a visa-exempt policy will be much more meaningful to those who spontaneously want to travel to Vietnam than those who have planned their trip.

“Imagine a tourist wants to change the destination for his vacation at the last minute,” Khanh told Tuoi Tre.

“He will then choose the country with the most easy visa rule, which is not the case of Vietnam.”

Vietnam is now an unattractive destination for global tourists thanks to its time-consuming visa procedures, he added.

“So we should offer visa exemption to tourists from such potential market as the EU,” he urged.

Hoang Huu Loc, chairman of another tour organizer, Saigontourist, also believes a visa-exempt policy will be a plus for Vietnam’s tourism, especially when the country’s tourism infrastructure is lagging far behind Southeast Asian peers such as Thailand or Malaysia.

“The fee to get a visa is not really as important as the complicated formalities holidaymakers have to go through,” he said.

Tourists from some European countries and Australia or New Zealand are still much interested in traveling to Vietnam, Loc said.

“It will be far easier for them to plan their trip if they are not to worry about applying for a visa, as there are already nonstop flights between their countries and Vietnam,” he added.

For Bui Viet Thuy Tien, director of Asian Trails, a travel firm that has offices in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, visa exemption is less important than procedure simplification.

While Tien agrees that the 12 markets the Ho Chi Minh City Travel Association wants to waive visas for are potential markets for Vietnam, she said it is not really necessary to exempt them from visa requirements.

“It is essential that they get a visa easily and quickly upon their arrival at our airports,” she said.

The current time-consuming and complicated visa application procedure is discouraging tourists, who should be able to apply for a Vietnamese visa online,” Tien suggested.

“Other countries are doing this and tourists will find Vietnam no longer attractive if it just cannot do the same,” she concluded.

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