Controversy over visa exemption for foreign tourists

By Thu Phuong - May 03, 2019 | 03:27 PM GMT+7

TheLEADERDespite the desperate call for visa exemption for international tourists from the private sector, state management bodies insisted that it did not affect the visitor flow into Vietnam.

Controversy over visa exemption for foreign tourists
Foreign tourists enjoy themselves at a beach of Halong Bay. Photo: Emperor Cruises.

The Vietnam Private Sector Economic Forum 2019 held yesterday in Hanoi heated up when Nguyen Phuong Lan, Deputy Head of the Consular Department, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took a stand on the proposal of exempting visas for international visitors.

According to Lan, the visa exemption policy is not the decisive factor for the tourism industry. As reported by Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the growth rate of visitors from countries that do not have visa exemption agreement with Vietnam such as the US or Canada is even higher than those that have.

Also, visa is only one of the criteria for assessing the openness of a country to international tourists. Hence, it alone cannot represent the tourism competitiveness of a country, Lan claimed.

She cited the ranking of the World Economic Forum as saying that Spain, Japan or the United States still have high competitiveness in tourism although their visa policies are not so open.

Therefore, the expansion of visa exemption should be considered on the basis of the relationship between the two countries, security risks and foreign relations to ensure the interests of Vietnamese citizens, Lan emphasised.

In contrast, from the perspective of a frequent traveller, Luong Hoai Nam, deputy general director of Vietstar Aviation Group noted that he would like to be exempted from visa to different countries, so that he could travel to as many places as he desires.

Nam also thought that would be a wish of many Vietnamese people, who have felt the ease and convenience to travel to the neighbouring countries like Thailand or those in the ASEAN region without having to apply for visa.

He said that visa therefore is an important factor for tourism development and should get as much attention as in other countries.

Viettral general director Nguyen Quoc Ky said Vietnam could develop a more flexible visa policy and in this case visa might be issued more easily for major events such as Formula 1 racing, Sea Games, Hue Festival, or Vesak. 

Many agencies have in fact proposed the visa exemption scheme for certain countries and territories since 2016, but until now such scheme has yet been granted.

Nguyen Thi Huyen, director of Vietrantour, stated that there were some efforts to improve the procedures of visa issuance in Vietnam but they have been carried out rather half-heartedly.

For example, to get a visa at the border gate, visitors to Vietnam still have to go through the red tape beforehand.

In contrast, Thailand now issues visas right at the border gate for citizens from 20 countries, who need nothing other than their ID photo, passport, air ticket and a residence confirmation.

Pham Ha, the founder of Luxury Travel, said that four bottlenecks in Vietnam's tourism industry were visas, human resources, tourism products and effective promotions.

In particular, visa is a huge barrier to tourism growth. Currently, Vietnam’s visa exemption lasts for 15 days, but Ha suggested that it should be prolonged to 30 days or even longer. Visa should be removed for as many countries as possible.

Kenneth Atkinson, executive president of Grant Thornton Vietnam, agreed with this view, saying it would help prolong the stay of visitors, hence increasing their spending.

Furthermore, international visitors are also reported to face difficulties when searching for visa information, as the websites are not user-friendly enough, he said.

Therefore, Atkinson stressed that visa-related information also needs to be transparent and consistent to prevent fake information from affecting tourists.