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Visa exemptions passport to tourism bonanza: expert

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International arrivals to Vietnam could increase by 20 percent if visa waiver policy is expanded, a senior hospitality expert says.

Visa exemptions passport to tourism bonanza

Foreign tourists take cyclo rides in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Shutterstock

Kenneth Atkinson, vice president of Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), told the Vietnam Travel and Tourism Summit held in Hanoi Monday the country has fared poorly compared to its neighbors in providing visa exemptions to attract more visitors.

Many countries have implemented the visa waiver policy due to its huge benefits. If Vietnam does waive visas for Europe tourists who travel longer and spend more, tourism growth could reach 20 percent,” said Atkinson, also founder and senior board adviser of consulting firm Grant Thorton Vietnam.

The number of foreigners visiting Vietnam in the first 11 months of this year is estimated at 16.3 million, an all-time high which was up 15.3 percent year-on-year, official data shows.

Atkinson expressed concern that Vietnam’s visa exemption policy for visitors from countries such as Russia, South Korea, Japan, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden will officially expire on December 31, with the government yet to respond to the issue.

This affects travel agencies and tour operators.

Long-haul travelers usually plan their tours six months in advance and if Vietnam does not respond early, the number of foreign visitors will be greatly affected,” he explained.

Atkinson said Vietnam has two official immigration websites, xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn that leave many tourists at a loss. He proposed authorities merge both sites and improve internet access.

TAB, established in 2012 as a result of EU support to Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), promotes tourism via a public-private partnership (PPP) model.

With the visa exemption program scheduled to end soon, TAB proposed a five year extension, saying the number of Russian, Japanese and South Korean tourists accounted for one third of all foreign visitors to Vietnam in 2018.

The agency also suggested adding Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium to the list.

According to World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report released in September, Vietnam moved from 67th position to 63rd out of 140 economies in visa application rankings.

The country’s overall score increased 0.12 points from 2017 to 3.9 thanks to better international openness, visa policies, price competitiveness, airport infrastructure and tourist services.

But the nation remains far behind ASEAN peers, especially in the visa category, in which it scored 3.7, below Thailand (3.9), Indonesia (4.3), Malaysia (4.5) and Singapore (4.8).

Vietnam currently offers visa exemptions to travelers from 24 countries, compared to 61 by Thailand, 158 by Singapore, 155 by Malaysia and 169 by Indonesia.

TAB hopes by 2020, Vietnam would exempt visas for 60 countries and allow electronic visa applications for 80.

Visa policy change could see Vietnam welcome 18.5 million visitors and earn $35 billion by 2020, it said.

The country’s tourism revenue in the first 11 months of the year is around VND649 trillion ($27.96 billion), up 16.3 percent year-on-year.

As the year comes to a close, its tourism industry is well placed to meet its annual target of receiving 18 million visitors.

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