Foreign experts urge Vietnam to relax visa policies, improve tourism services

By Hoang Phong   March 23, 2023 | 03:00 am PT
Foreign experts urge Vietnam to relax visa policies, improve tourism services
Foreign tourists walk on a street in Hanoi, December 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Hai
Foreign experts say that restrictive visa policy and poor quality of tourism services are the biggest obstacles stopping foreign tourists from returning to Vietnam.

Martin Koerner, chairman of EuroCham Vietnam's Tourism and Hospitality Sector Committee, told at a tourism conference Wednesday that Vietnam's visa policy remains complicated and restrictive compared to regional neighbors such as Thailand and Singapore.

Thailand already extended its tourist visas to a maximum stay of 45 days for over 50 countries while Vietnam currently exempts only citizens of 25 countries from requiring visas with maximum stays of 15 days.

EuroCham has proposed the government expand visa exemptions for more countries, including all European countries, the United States, Australia and New Zealand and prolong the duration of visa-free stays to 30 days.

"However, we have seen slow progress in achieving this," Koerner said. "The country needs to implement a tourism development strategy quickly to compete with its regional competitors."

Nuno F. Ribeiro, Deputy Senior Program Manager in Tourism and Hospitality at RMIT Vietnam, also proposed Vietnam waive visas for more countries, especially potential sources of tourism, and increase spending by rich European tourists by offering them longer stays.

Since Vietnam reopened its borders in March last year, the number of foreign tourists has remained low while Southeast Asian neighbors with more open visa policies have already recorded significant increases in international arrivals.

Thailand received 11.5 million foreign tourists last year and has set an ambitious target of 30 million foreign arrivals for this year.

Other Southeast Asian countries have been racing to attract more international tourists with relaxed immigration policies.

In addition to strict visa policy, poor services remain a major concern for Vietnam's tourism industry since the country reopened to foreign arrivals.

"When I arrived in Thailand, immigration officers welcomed me with smiles, making me feel welcomed," Koerner said.

Meanwhile many foreign tourists complained they had to wait in long queues to enter Vietnam, and said that the customs officers are often not friendly. At the point of entry and exit, if tourists do not feel welcome, they will look for other destinations, he added.

Koerner said the government should improve passenger handling at major airports, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where foreigners have to wait too long at immigration counters.

Vietnam is scaring away tourists with its poor quality of tourism services, and furthermore harassment and cheating remain big turn-offs that tarnish the country's reputation, Ribeiro said.

He called on the government to improve human resources for the tourism industry and diversify travel experiences to boost spending from wealthier tourists.

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