Attractive flights, visas needed for wealthy Middle Eastern tourists

By Phuong Anh   December 17, 2022 | 05:00 am PT
Attractive flights, visas needed for wealthy Middle Eastern tourists
Muslims have Halal food for lunch at a restaurant inside Al-Noor mosque's area in Hanoi. Photo by Andy Ip Thien
Vietnam should launch more direct routes to the Middle East, offer an open visa policy, and even open new Halal restaurants to attract wealthy tourists from the Middle East, experts say.

Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Doan Van Viet told a recent travel industry meeting that nearly 60 million citizens from wealthy member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council – including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – traveled abroad before the pandemic, but less than 6,000 of them came to Vietnam.

"This is a too small number, so it is necessary for the tourism industry to find solutions to attract tourists from the Middle East in 2023," Viet said.

Mohammed Ismaeil Al-Dahlwy, the Saudi ambassador to Vietnam, said that Vietnam is a safe country with a stable political situation.

He said that he had visited Ho Chi Minh City and Da Lat in the Central Highlands and found that Vietnam had many beautiful landscapes as well as diverse weather.

The ambassador said he hoped that Vietnam would boost tourism promotion campaigns in the Middle East as access to information about traveling to Vietnam is still limited in his home region.

Huynh Phan Phuong Hoang, deputy general director of leading tour operator Vietravel, pointed out that Middle Eastern tourists are high spenders and keen on enjoying lavish vacations.

Vietnam has strong advantages to attract wealthy tourists from the Middle East such as a large system of five-star hotels suitable for families with young children, she said, adding that Middle Eastern tourists travel in family groups.

"But we need to have a more open visa policy for visitors from the Middle East," Hoang said.

Currently only tourists from UAE and Qatar can apply for an e-visa to enter Vietnam, while other Middle Easterners still have to apply for a paper visa.

Hoang said that in order to attract Middle Eastern tourists, Vietnam needs to prove that we understand and respect their regional culture.

Most people in the Middle East practice Islam and Muslims pray five times a day, she pointed out. Thus Vietnam should have separate rooms in hotels, airports, and tourist attractions to satisfy their prayer needs, she said.

Vietnam on Friday opened its first business lounge for Muslim passengers at Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCMC.

Insiders said Vietnam also needs more Halal restaurants to serve Islamic cuisine.

"The opening of Halal restaurants not only satisfies the demands of Middle Eastern tourists, but also attracts a large number of visitors from Indonesia and India, where many people also practice Islam," said Truong Quoc Hung, chairman of UNESCO Hanoi Travel Club.

The tourism industry should pay more attention to training tour guides who can speak Arabic to serve guests in the best way, said Rafic Rida, president of Rida International Travel & Tourism Company.

The Middle East is home to the world's largest oil producers and Middle Easterners are among the world's biggest spenders.

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Middle Eastern tourists spend 6.5 times more than the global average, and 40% of individual tourists from the region spend more than $10,000 per trip.

Vietnam opened its borders on March 15, but the number of foreign visitors in the first 11 months of the year has been a modest 2.95 million, or just more than half the full-year target of five million, due partly to visa hassles.

The tourism industry is seeking ways to tap into new tourism markets like India and the Middle East.

go to top