As far as we know that Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board has recently submitted a report to the Vietnam Government asking for further extension of visa exemption for tourists coming from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Why did you do so and what else are you asking the government to do regarding this issue?
Kenneth Atkinson: The reasons for submitting our proposals to the Government was because we were concerned that the exemptions would not be continued and we believe these exemptions are a great facilitator to increased foreign visitor arrivals.
The main recommendations included a recommendation to increase the number of visa exempt countries and in particular to add Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium; to extend the visa exemptions to 30 days and allowing visitors to return within 30days and to pass the exemptions for five years instead of them being subject to renewal every year and the uncertainty that this causes to the industry.
We also recommended further additions to the countries eligible for e-Visas.
The reason for making these recommendations are in part due to the fact that the current exemptions are only valid until the end of June and our concerns that they may not be renewed. On the other hand we have been lobbying for greater visa facilitation for many years to try to bring us into line with some of our neighbouring countries also competing to attract foreign visitor arrivals.
In the ASEAN region Vietnam has the lowest number of exemptions with the exception of (Cambodia and Laos) with only 24 countries enjoying visa exemption. In addition, whilst visitors with visa exemptions are generally granted 30-day visa, Vietnam mainly exempt the tourists for 15 days only and restricts a visa exempt return within 30 days.
What has the visa exemption for five European countries brought to Vietnam over the past three years of pilot scheme?
Kenneth Atkinson: The exemptions to the five European countries have brought an increase in higher spending longer stay visitors, which Vietnam needs to meet its 2020 targets. The Resolution 08-NQ/TW states in 2020 we have to reach the goal of 18.5 million visitors and $20 billion in visitor exports. This means we have to reach the goal of $1,080/pax in visitor exports.
Whilst international arrival growth has been very strong, China and Korea account for over 50 per cent of our inbound visitors and their average stay is under 10 days with an average spend per visitor of less than $1,000.
On the other hand visitors from Europe stay on average 15 days or more and average spend per visitor ranges from $1,100 – 1,600 (with an average about $1,300).
If the government does not grant extension of the visa exemption what will happen?
Kenneth Atkinson: We firmly believe that if the visa exemptions are not renewed it will have an immediate negative impact on arrivals from those countries whose exemptions are not renewed and will be seen by the foreign stakeholders as a negative and retrograde step. It will also reduce the chance of Vietnam achieving the 2020 goals for visitor exports.
Is Vietnam's visa scheme competitive to other countries in Southeast Asia?
Kenneth Atkinson: In fact Vietnam’s visa regime is not competitive compared to other ASEAN countries. In the ASEAN region Vietnam has the lowest number of exemptions with the exception of (Cambodia and Laos) with only 24 countries enjoying visa exemption.
In addition, whilst visitors with visa exemptions are generally granted 30-day visa, Vietnam mainly exempt the tourists for 15 days only and restricts a visa exempt return within 30 days.
The government has recently applied e-visa to 46 countries. Do you think this scheme is easier for tourists to apply for visa and if this scheme is more widely applied do you think there is no need for visa exemption?
Kenneth Atkinson: Whilst the introduction of the e-Visa is a significant step forward and one which we applaud, there are a number of issues, which could be easily addressed to improve access to this service.
The website and its access speed should be upgraded because there are many instances of time out when trying to access.
Access from different domain names causes confusion in the market place and also enable agents to profit from this confusion by charging additional fees for the service. The domain “evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn” should be changed to “evisa.gov.vn” so as to remove the confusion and make clear this is a Government service.
We also recommend adding four more territories/countries to the e-Visa program those being Taiwan, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Belgium.
In addition to visa issue, what else do you think the Vietnamese government should do to promote foreign tourist flow into Vietnam?
Kenneth Atkinson: In addition to the visa issues there are several things that the Government needs to address in order to attract and promote the foreign tourist inflow.
These include a need to recognize the minimum budget that they allocate to destination marketing which is on 5 per cent or less of what Thailand and Malaysia spend and even less than Cambodia, and the need to increase this; to help facilitate better and more tourist attractions particularly for families to attract more return visitors; to really closely monitor responsible and sustainable development so that the growth in hotels and environmental services, such as waste management, go hand in hand.