Vietnam’s latest extended visa-free travel policy for citizens from five Western European countries officially came into effect on Sunday, with a longer validity of three years, compared to one year in the last three renewals.
Visitors from the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain have enjoyed visa exemption, with an allowed stay of 15 days for each entry, when traveling to Vietnam since July 2015, when the year-long policy was introduced.
Following the first renewal in June 2016 and second extension in June 2017, the policy expired on Saturday last week.
During a government meeting on May 3, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed to continue easing visa requirements for visitors from these five countries from July 1, 2018, responding in favor of suggestions from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and relevant agencies.
While the visa waiver has had to be reconsidered annually since 2016, the latest extension has a validity period of three years.
However, the premier decided not to increase the allowable stay per entry from 15 to 30 days, nor to add more countries to the visa-free list as suggested by the tourism ministry and industry insiders.
PM Phuc believed that relevant ministries and agencies still need to evaluate the effectiveness of the current visa waiver, applied to the five countries under a pilot scheme, before making any changes, according to Mai Tien Dung, Minister and Chairman of the Government Office.
|A foreign tourist visits a food fair in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Visitors increased twofold, but…
Vietnam’s recent steps to create a more open visa policy, according to Dung, have contributed to the country’s continuous growth in international arrivals.
"This reform is aimed at bringing convenience to tourists, helping us have a great tourist number," said the minister.
Vietnam’s Western European arrivals topped 1.5 million last year, more than double the 720,000 recorded in 2015, when the visa-free policy was first applied.
But when compared to other countries in the region, Vietnam’s visa policy remains much less competitive and attractive.
Vietnam ranked 116th out of 136 countries in terms of visa requirements in a 2017 report by the World Economic Forum, according to the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Council.
Vietnam currently exempts visas for 24 countries, one of the lowest numbers among Southeast Asian countries. In comparison, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines apply visa-free policies to more than 160 countries.
In addition, while other countries usually allow tourists to stay for 30 days without a visa, Vietnam mainly exempts visas for travelers for just 15 days, and visa-exempted tourists can only return to the country at least 30 days after exit.
|Foreign visitors are seen on a tour of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
No need to wait for reciprocity
According to the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Council, Vietnam should not insist on having a reciprocal basis when it comes to visa exemption.
The country can still gain benefit if it grants one-sided visa easing for other countries, Kinh Te & Do Thi (Economics and Urban) newspaper reported, citing a letter the council experts submitted to the prime minister.
For instance, not all the more than 160 countries enjoying visa waiver to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines ease visas for these four countries.
Specifically, Indonesia only enjoys visa exemptions from 57 countries and the number for the Philippines is 61.
"However, both countries recognize the significant benefits of facilitating the issuance of visas in a competitive market," the experts said in their letter.
The Tourism Advisory Council said Vietnam could benefit significantly from expanding visa exemption to Western countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium, even before these countries relax visa requirements for Vietnamese visitors.
By doing so, Vietnam may lose some US$17 million in terms of visa fee collection, but the number of visitors would increase by up to ten percent and tourism revenue would grow by $100 million, according to the council.
|Foreign tourists take a ride on pedicabs in the resort city of Hoi An in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|