Vietnam visa inefficiency causes tourism bottleneck

September 4, 2022 | 04:33 pm PT
Nguyen Son Thuy Businessman
In July one of our company's customers, a U.S. tourist, wanted to travel from Thailand to Vietnam.

The tourist, the travel agency and our company were all biting our nails as we awaited the visa: The date was fixed, the ticket was bought and it was 10 days since the application for the visa had been sent.

Fortunately, the visa was approved just before the day of departure.

The American tourist was lucky.

Just last week we had to turn down a ton of tourists from China, Iran and Pakistan, among others, because there was not enough time to complete everything needed to bring a foreign tourist to Vietnam.

As a veteran in tourism, I can say with confidence that the goal of receiving five million international visitors this year will be well-nigh impossible.

If you look at the numbers in the past decade (2010-19), you will see that arrivals from Northeast Asian countries accounted for 67% (12 million in 2019) of all foreign visitors.

Nowadays these numbers do little to inform us about the state of Vietnam’s tourism as many countries in the region such as China, Japan and South Korea are still restricting foreign travel.

In the first half of this year South Korea has been showing signs of tourism revival, including by allowing flights to resume.

But the resurgence in Covid-19 cases and the emergence of new variants have forced the government to reintroduce travel restrictions. Thus the number of flights from South Korea to Vietnam was also cut down.

Meanwhile, other major markets like the U.S., Russia, Australia, the U.K., and France remain busy with the war in Ukraine and are themselves struggling with the consequences of the conflict, including inflation and fuel shortages.

Tourism is far from a priority there.

That leaves us with Southeast Asia as the most viable option left. Malaysia and Thailand are both strong and growing markets, with several similarities with Vietnam when it comes to tourism trends, culture, food, and other socio-economic aspects.

According to Destination Insights, in the second quarter of 2022 demand for tourism information about Vietnam increased six-fold following the country’s reopening.

Data from Google Insights shows that demand in Malaysia and Thailand was very high, putting them among the top 10 countries seeking information about Vietnam.

I believe there are steps Vietnam can take to attract more foreign tourists.

The first thing we need to address is visa, visa and visa. We are now getting bottlenecked because of this very fundamental issue. While authorities in Vietnam are discussing plans to extend the visa exemption duration from 15 to 30 days, neighboring Thailand has already cranked it up to 45 days.

Plans to relax visa policies have been proposed multiple times, but to no effect.

The e-visa remains the most viable option to visit Vietnam, but many tourists give up on it because the approval process, if no return date is provided, is not reliable.

The visa-on-arrival channel does not seem to work yet despite many businesses looking to service their customers using this method.

Tourism promotion outside of Vietnam should be a solution we need to talk more about.

Vietnam promotes its tourism inside the country, but not abroad. I believe tourism promotion campaigns should be done more outside our borders to attract tourists.

Without resolving the visa bottleneck problem and promoting our tourism in other countries, Vietnam will lose the opportunity to revive an industry that contributed 10.4% of its GDP before the pandemic hit.

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