Reopen borders as soon as possible, travel firms urge

By Hoang Phong   January 29, 2022 | 05:00 pm PT
Reopen borders as soon as possible, travel firms urge
Russian tourists check in at Cam Ranh Airport, Khanh Hoa Province in December 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc
Officials are eyeing full reopening of borders for international tourists early May, but major travel firms say do it asap, so they don't lose out on recovery opportunities.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has proposed fully reopening borders to foreign tourists and lifting all entry restrictions from May 1 onwards.

However, many travel firms are urging that this plan be implemented much earlier.

Tran Nguyen, sales director of giant hospitality company and property developer Sun Group, which owns a number of resorts and tourist areas in Phu Quoc, said late March would be an ideal timeline for the country to fully reopen its borders to foreign tourists.

By then, Vietnam would have nearly finished its booster shot vaccination campaign and most of the country's 98-million population would have high antibody levels against Covid, Nguyen said.

She said the government should announce the official time for full reopening soon so that aviation and travel firms have enough time to make their plans. The international tourist market needs at least one to two months for carrying out tourism promotion campaigns, she added.

Also, a full reopening in March would enable travel firms and carriers to make preparations for SEA Games 31, set to take place in Vietnam from May 12 to 23 this year.

Nguyen Vu Khac Huy, general director of the Vina Phu Quoc Travel Company, said Vietnam should fully reopen the borders sooner than May as many countries in the region like Laos and Thailand have already restarted international tourism.

"Vietnam boasts one of the world's highest vaccine coverage rates and the pandemic situation in many parts of the country is nearly under control and there's no reason to wait until May for the tourism reopening," Huy said.

He also suggested that March would be a perfect time for full reopening. From May until the year-end would be the peak travel season of foreign visitors and firms need to prepare to tap it fully, he said.

Huy's company is one of four travel agencies designated to welcome back foreign tourists to Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang Province under the ongoing vaccine passport program.

His company plans to welcome back more groups of foreign tourists from South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore in February.

Huynh Phan Phuong Hoang, deputy general director at major travel firm Vietravel, also hoped the government would fully reopen the borders as soon as possible and relax entry regulations, exempting fully immunized tourists from quarantine.

She also said many regional countries have reopened their borders to foreign tourists and "if we are slow..., we would miss a golden opportunity."

Vietravel, which has begun operating its own airline, plans to welcome four groups of tourists from Southeast Asian countries in January and February to Phu Quoc Island in the Mekong Delta province Kien Giang and bring back European tourists to Vietnam in April.

Lift entry barriers

The Sun Group's representative suggested that the government halts its ongoing vaccine passport trial program with strict entry restrictions, saying they dissuade foreign tourists from visiting the country.

After two months of partial reopening, Vietnam has welcomed 8,500 foreigners coming on special package tours under the vaccine passport program, but half of them have been overseas Vietnamese coming to visit relatives and not tourists.

Nguyen said many foreign tourists on package tours under the program have given negative feedback after returning home. They said they encountered difficulties in registering tours to Vietnam and had been tested for Covid too many times.

Even after tests showed negative results, they had been sequestered in hotels with limited movements, Nguyen said, adding such strict entry requirements for foreign tourists would prevent them from returning to Vietnam and the country would lose its reputation and position.

Huy also said that one of the key factors for full tourism reopening is to lift quarantine requirements for foreign tourists so that they feel free to visit the country.

In addition, travel firms also hope the government resumes visa exemption for stays of less than 15 days for visitors from designated markets that had qualified for the policy prior to the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, visitors from Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. had been allowed to stay in Vietnam for no longer than 15 days without a visa.

However, all such policies were stopped when Vietnam closed its border to foreign tourists in March 2020 and suspended its visa waiver policy early last year.

The country partially reopened its borders last November, allowing foreign tourists to visit some designated tourist destinations on special package tours with limited itineraries.

Khanh Hoa, Kien Giang, Quang Nam, Quang Ninh, Binh Dinh, HCMC and Da Nang are the only localities they are allowed to visit now.

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