Why is it that Vietnam can have great ideas about tourism one day, but then turn around and make a mess of its promotion the next day? The answer: short-term thinking and greed.
Vietnam needs to make it easier for international and domestic tourism to grow – not placing obstacles in the way. The recent announcement of a one-year visa for American tourists has degenerated into a bureaucratic mess that shows little concern for Vietnam’s long-term tourism ambitions.
For fifty kilometers along the coastline from Da Nang to Quang Ngai, there’s a construction boom. Resorts are going faster up than the price of coconut milk. One estimate claims that there will be an extra 20,000 hotel rooms available in the next two years.
If you add to this all the other great tourist destinations in Vietnam (including Phu Quoc), the pressure on the hospitality industry will be huge. However, the only way anyone is ever going to make any money is a greater influx of tourists from all countries.
At a tourist conference in Hoi An earlier this year, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged government departments and tourism officials to do more to improve tourism products and make it easier for tourists to enter the country. However, the American tourist visa fiasco clearly demonstrates that this is not happening, despite the tourism ministry implementing what was fundamentally a good idea.
Further to this, everyone seems to be building large resorts at the expense of medium-sized and smaller hospitality businesses with a variety of nightlife options. For more than a few resorts, accommodation rates will dwindle if tourists don’t have somewhere in proximity that’s interesting enough to explore.
None of this takes into account other issues; such as the aesthetics of a place. The number of hotels and resorts in both Da Nang and Hoi An is rising each year, with towers reaching ever higher into the sky. The most common design appears to be Lego towers – giant blocks with no consideration for the true beauty of central Vietnam, its beaches, mountains nor agricultural areas.
Nha Trang has often been used as an example of the developmental madness ruining the very reason tourists visit; the marine environment, the long stretches of beach and the ‘small’ town feel that tourists seek in order to escape city life back in their own countries. Does every province have to look the same? Why not use a little imagination in urban design?
Apart from a general ‘ugliness’ there’s also the matter of getting here. At present, Vietnam appears no closer to permanently opening its doors to the world when it comes to visas. With the country looking to host the ASEAN Tourism Forum in 2019 – surely it’s strange that Vietnam appears no closer to a clear cut, straightforward, easy to administer visa system.
Some can stay for 15 days, others for 30 days, many have to do the bizarre ritual of going to the border to renew visas and turn back around to the towns in which they live. The Americans now have a laughable one-year visa however they still need to get it renewed every three months?
Vietnam has to get its act together fast – Cambodia has announced new 1 to 3 year visas, easily organized with clear pricing and no ambiguity. Indonesia already offers visa-free tourism for 30 days to a whopping 169 countries, while Laos offers 30 days for 35 dollars, easily undercutting Vietnam’s haphazard pricing system.
I personally urge the national government and the tourism industry to re-think their current visa policy as it clearly won’t effectively allow the country to meet its future tourism targets.
Tourists want the option to stay longer in a convenient way, for example, renewing visas at a local tourism agency rather than doing ‘border runs’. Moreover, requiring people to leave and then come back defeats the point of encouraging further tourism, especially if tourists want to stay longer or, for others, the chance to contribute by working in the country.
You have choices, Vietnam. Build well and with a sense of pride you have in your country. Not a 40-story high concrete block overshadowing a beach.
Let the tourists come and choose from a range of visas (or visa free) for 30 to 90 days without this border run nonsense.
Even if only a few Vietnamese consider what I write here and begin to encourage a better way – it will be still worth it. As the Vietnamese proverb goes: “You catch fish with TWO hands.”