Change visa policy, diversify tourism markets to hit target of 8-million foreign visitors: experts

By Hoang Phong   December 24, 2022 | 06:00 pm PT
Change visa policy, diversify tourism markets to hit target of 8-million foreign visitors: experts
Foreign tourists sail kayak in Lan Ha Bay, northern Vietnam in October 2022. Photo courtesy of Lux Group
The target of 8 million foreign arrivals for 2023 will be a big challenge for Vietnam, according to industry experts, who say that the country should quickly remove visa barriers and seek new sources of tourists to meet that goal.

"Vietnam needs to make a new breakthrough in tourism policies in 2023 to reach the 8-million target as we have now fallen far behind Southeast Asian neighbors like Thailand in international tourism recovery," said Pham Ha, CEO of Lux Group, which specializes in organizing luxury cruise tours.

Ha said further that the tourism industry needs an open visa policy that offers 90-day multiple-entry visas for 65 countries as Thailand has done, and that the country also needs to expand the list of countries eligible for e-visa issuance and to grant visa-on-arrival at Vietnamese airports.

In addition to making a friendly visa policy, Ha said that Vietnam should declare the end of the Covid pandemic to tell foreign tourists that the country is a safe tourist destination and that the Covid travel insurance requirement for foreigners should be lifted when they apply for a visa.

A lack of competitive tourism policies and the over dependence on Chinese and Russian tourists have left Vietnam's tourism a laggard, the CEO added.

Therefore, Ha said the tourism industry should seek new tourism markets with good air connections like the United States, Australia and Canada.

In addition to traditional markets such as Western Europe, it is necessary to pay attention to tourists from Eastern Europe, he added.

Nguyen Chau A, CEO of Oxalis Adventure, the company that takes people on exclusive cave tours in the central province of Quang Binh, said before the pandemic, Vietnam received 6 million tourists from the United States and Europe in 2019 and so these markets are very important to the tourism industry.

A said Vietnam should boost tourism promotion campaigns and ease visa policies to strive to welcome 4 million tourists from these markets next year.

Americans are the second largest group of tourists to have booked for tours in the world's largest cave Son Doong with Oxalis next year: 330 out of a total of 900, after 360 bookings by Vietnamese.

A said the 8-million target for 2023 will be a "very big" challenge for the tourism industry and that the goal will still depend on China's tourism reopening policy.

"If the Northeast Asia region including China, Japan and South Korea fully reopen international tourism, Vietnam can receive 12 million international visitors in 2023," he added. "In contrast, if China does not yet open, the 8-million figure will be a distant dream."

Huynh Phan Phuong Hoang, deputy general director of leading tour operator Vietravel, also said the 8-million target for next year could be reachable if China, which used to be Vietnam’s biggest tourism market before the pandemic, reopened its tourism activities next year as planned.

Before the Covid outbreak in late 2019, nearly 5.8 million Chinese visited Vietnam annually.

China has recently loosened its pandemic prevention policies and eased travel restrictions, stirring hopes for Southeast Asian economies including Vietnam.

Hoang said Indian and Middle Eastern tourists are big spenders keen on enjoying lavish vacations, and that therefore, the tourism industry should pay attention to promotion campaigns to attract wealthy tourists from these markets.

Vietnam was one of the first Southeast Asian countries to reopen to international tourism on March 15 after two years of pandemic lockdown.

Foreign tourist arrivals to Vietnam are expected to reach only 3.5 million this year, around 70% of the country’s 2022 target of five million.

Amid the gloomy outlook for the industry, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Van Hung proposed the government consider extending visa-free stays for foreign tourists to 30 days and granting e-visas to the citizens of all countries and territories.

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