Tourism boost demands visa exemptions, better service: experts

By Hoang Phong   May 31, 2024 | 03:40 pm PT
Tourism boost demands visa exemptions, better service: experts
Foreign tourists sit on a sand along Nha Trang beach in Khanh Hoa. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Toan
Vietnam's efforts to grow tourism need expanded visa exemptions and better quality services to compete effectively with Southeast Asia neighbors, local industry insiders have continued to argue.

Vietnam ranked 59th out of 119 economies on this year's Travel and Tourism Development Index released by the World Economic Forum.

The country trailed many of its more developed Southeast Asian neighbors like Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Dr. Nuno F. Ribeiro PhD CHE, senior lecturer of Tourism and Hospitality Management at RMIT Vietnam and incoming vice-chairman of Vietnam Eurocham Tourism and Hospitality Sector Committee, said Vietnam's current position shows how far the country has progressed since the first edition of the ranking in 2007, when Vietnam placed 87th.

"Vietnam’s position in the ranking has fluctuated slightly over the years, which is to be expected given Vietnam’s status as an emerging tourism destination, but the overall trend is unequivocally positive," he added.

Vietnam performed well in key areas like price competitiveness, safety and security, natural resources and cultural resources.

Ribeiro said all this progress pointed to "the immense potential that Vietnam has in developing tourism products based on natural and cultural resources."

He went on to add that Vietnam was by all accounts a proven "safe country and a destination that offers good value for money, which is key in attracting different travel market segments."

Martin Koerner, member of EuroCham Vietnam Tourism & Hospitality Sector Committee, pointed an encouraging and supportive figure towards Vietnam’s efforts to improve its inconsistent visa policies, and the need to consolidate its uncoordinated tourism promotion campaigns.

Vietnam has started granting three-month visas for citizens from all countries and territories while also extending visa-free stays to 45 days for major economies like European countries, Japan and South Korea.

However, Vietnam’s current position still lags far behind its neighboring Southeast Asian competitors like Thailand, whose economy has for decades been developed to heavily rely on tourism growth.

According to those involved like Ribeiro and Koerner, Vietnam should further expand its visa exemption program to include more countries, such as the full EU, Australia and New Zealand.

Korner added that easy access to convenient short-term visas for Chinese or Indian citizens – the world’s two largest markets, which account for a combined total of over a one-third of planet Earth’s population – should be offered and provided without bureaucratic hassle and free of confusing delayed wait times.

In comparison, countries like Thailand and Singapore have implemented more inclusive visa policies, such as permanent waivers for Chinese citizens, and visa-free travel for developed countries.

"These policies contribute to those countries’ higher openness rankings and could serve as a model for Vietnam to follow," Koerner said.

Vietnam now waives visas for travelers from 25 countries compared to 162 in Malaysia and Singapore, 157 in the Philippines, and 64 in Thailand.

Either way the situation is sliced, the WEF rankings show that Vietnam still faces numerous challenges in terms of tourist services and infrastructure.

Ribeiro proposed that Vietnam can improve labor productivity in hotels and restaurants, which can be achieved by investing in hospitality human resource betterment via more training and the supporting of partnerships between educational institutions and hospitality providers.

Experts familiar with the challenging demands, shortages and supplies of the current labor market have advocated for improved hospitality education at the vocational and tertiary levels.

Foreign travelers in Vietnam have complained that the staff providing them accommodation often lack foreign language skills and are unable to provide guests with tips, help and ideas on how to enjoy their travels in the localities they are visiting.

Many ask: If hotel staff are not experts in explaining and introducing the area to travelers, who is?

"Enhancing education and training in the hospitality sector is vital for improving service quality," Ribeiro added.

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