Vietnam propelled to SEA tourism frontrunner

By Nguyen Quy   July 12, 2023 | 07:06 pm PT
Vietnam propelled to SEA tourism frontrunner
Foreign tourists listen to a tour guide in front of the Central Post Office in downtown HCMC, June 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung
Vietnam has surpassed several of its neighbors in attracting international tourists with the comeback of important markets, and insiders expect the race will get even smoother with new visa policies.

Foreign visitors reached over 5.5 million during the January-June period, 69% of this year's eight-million target.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, received 4.12 million visitors during the period, while Cambodia recorded some 2.57 million international visitors.

Though Laos has not yet released its January-June tourist arrival numbers, foreign visitors to the country in the first four months of this year reached about one million.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is now only behind Thailand, which has welcomed 12.46 million foreign tourists so far.

Vietnam was also the seventh most searched destination from March to June, according to a report by Google Destination Insights. And it was the only country in Southeast Asia in the top 20.

Martin Koerner, head of tourism working group at Vietnam Business Forum, told VnExpress International Vietnam has indeed shown remarkable resilience in its tourism sector despite the challenges posed by the Covid pandemic.

"We have seen the comeback of important source markets such as South Korea, China, the U.S., Europe and so forth. In addition, the growth of the Indian market, which has been expanding since 2022, has positively contributed to Vietnam's increasing foreign tourist number," he said.

He also said Vietnam has received some very good international media attention in recent times such as the Netflix movie "A Tourist's Guide to Love" filmed in popular tourist hotspots that contributed to boosting the country's reputation.

The introduction of new visa rules has also been a catalyst for tourism growth, Martin added.

The National Assembly on June 24 approved extending tourist e-visas from 30 to 90 days and prolonging visa-free periods for selected countries to 45 days, starting from August 15.

"Vietnam still faces some challenges, such as improving its infrastructure, service quality and environmental sustainability, but it has a strong potential to become a leading tourism destination in Southeast Asia," Martin added.

Nuno F. Ribeiro, Deputy Senior Program Manager in Tourism and Hospitality at RMIT Vietnam, said Vietnam is a desirable tourist destination in the region thanks to affordable accommodation options and cheap food and transport, making it ideal for budget-conscious travelers.

As Thailand and Indonesia have started tightening visa policies, Vietnam's relaxed visa requirements would be a 'great advantage,' insiders said.

"The recent efforts in the relaxation of entry into Vietnam and visa policies have helped international travelers become not only more aware of the possibility of extended stays when visiting Vietnam, but also allow for trips to Vietnam to be combined with visits to neighboring countries, such as Laos and Cambodia. This is a plus for Vietnam, as in the ASEAN region we will benefit from multi-country marketing," Nuno added.

"Additionally, these policies can be particularly attractive for digital nomads or long-term travelers who wish to spend an extended period in Vietnam, thus multiplying their positive impact in Vietnamese economy."

From April 1 tourists from Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asian countries among others were only allowed to stay for 30 days without a visa instead of 45 as previously while Indonesia stopped the visa-free entry citizens of 159 countries and territories outside ASEAN amid concerns about "disruption of public order and potential transmission of diseases."

Vietnam received a record 18 million foreign tourists in 2019, the year before the onset of the pandemic.

With recent positive signs, the tourism industry expected Vietnam could welcome 12 million foreign arrivals by the end of this year, far surpassing its target.

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