Vietnam risks losing regional tourism race without visa waivers: experts

By Hoang Phong   February 26, 2024 | 03:16 pm PT
Vietnam risks losing regional tourism race without visa waivers: experts
Foreign tourists visit Mua Cave in Ninh Binh Province in northern Vietnam, February 2024. Photo by Nguyen Anh Tuan
Vietnam should soon waive visas for the nationals of some major tourism source markets in order not to lag behind its Southeast Asian neighbors, experts said.

On Feb. 23 Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh had instructed immigration agencies to consider waiving visas for visits of six to 12 months for visitors of wealthy countries and expanding the list of countries whose citizens are exempt from visas.

Martin Koerner, Head of the Tourism Working Group of Vietnam Business Forum, told VnExpress International Vietnam should not delay its visa reform as other Southeast Asian countries have been more proactive in their visa policies, especially Thailand.

"If Vietnam is slow to expand visa exemption, it may face some disadvantages such as losing market share and competitiveness to other neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia."

Besides, it may reduce the attractiveness of Vietnam as a friendly destination and tourists may prefer to visit countries that offer visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival, Koerner said.

Dr Nuno F. Ribeiro, senior lecturer in tourism and hospitality management at The Business School of RMIT Vietnam, said the clock is ticking and if Vietnam delays expanding its visa exemption policies, it risks losing out on attracting visitors from major tourism markets.

"In my view, Vietnam should consider waiving visas for countries with a higher level of development, large tourism spending, and potential for long-term stays. This includes countries such as Australia, Canada, the U.S., and the remaining countries of the EU."

Now only nationals of seven EU countries, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, can enter Vietnam without a visa.

Koerner said Vietnam should consider also waiving visas for Chinese. China used to be the largest source market for Vietnam, accounting for 30% of foreign arrivals in 2019.

"China is also one of the fastest recovering markets after the Covid-19 pandemic, with strong demand for outbound travel. Thailand has waived visas for Chinese tourists."

European countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Poland should also be considered, he said.

Vietnam now waives visas for nationals of 25 countries compared to 162 by Malaysia and Singapore, 157 by the Philippines, 68 by Japan, 66 by South Korea, and 64 by Thailand.

Vietnam grants tourist visas for up to three months to citizens of all countries and territories.

It received 12.6 million international visitors last year, only around 70% of the pre-Covid number, while Malaysia and Thailand received over 28 million.

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