The visa exemption policy for visitors from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain is about to expire on June 30, 2018 but there is no clear evidence to show that this policy will be still extended or not.
It is suggested that with the soaring number of international visitors to Vietnam in recent years, there is no need to extend visa exemption policy for five Western European countries.
There were 10 million international visitors to Vietnam in 2016 and last year, this figure increased to 12.9 million, which is a good signal. In the first three months of this year, Vietnam continued to show its strong attraction to international visitors when it received 4.2 million, up 30.9 per cent over the same period last year.
However, when analyzing the structure of the international visitors market, Nguyen Duc Quynh, Executive Assistant Manager of Furama Resort Da Nang, felt anxious. Asian visitors accounted for 74 per cent in the first three months of this year with more than 51 per cent of them coming from two sensitive markets including China and South Korea.
Those markets are considered sensitive because Quynh said that, Korean visitors tend to travel in the trend when they rush to a destination and quickly move to another one. China continues to be the largest tourist market of Vietnam but experiences from some countries show that when sensitive issues arise, Chinese visitors do not come anymore, which creates profound impact on the tourism industry.
Therefore, many tourism experts say that the developing tourist markets outside Asia will reduce the dependence on these two markets and then create a balancing and sustainable development. Some markets outside of Asia, especially European ones, are quality markets with tourists who often go on long vacations, have high spending and care for the environment.
In the eyes of Pham Ha, Director of Luxury Travel, Vietnam is attractive to tourists from Europe but there are a lot of factors making it difficult for European tourists to go to Vietnam such as a lack of direct flights or weakness in advertisement. If European visitors have to pay extra cost and spend a lot of time in visa procedures, they will feel discouraged to come to Vietnam.
Therefore, that visitors from five West European countries including the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain enjoyed visa exemption in the past three years was highly appreciated by travel agents.
According to Ha, in addition to the attractiveness of Vietnam's tourism, visa exemption policy encourage visitors from these countries to go to Vietnam. The number of visitors from these countries increased continuously over the past three years from 658,656 in 2015 to 866,617 last year.
Experts from the Tourism Working Group of the Vietnam Business Forum say that visitors from potential markets such as Western or North Europe tend to combine multiple destinations on one trip. For example, when they visit Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, they often want to visit Vietnam.
In fact, visa procedures for tourists to Vietnam are appreciated to make remarkable progress in recent years, especially the issuance of electronic visa for 46 countries. However, it is still time consuming and costly while other regional countries such as Thailand or Malaysia are visa-free for many countries.
While Vietnam exempts visa for 23 countries, Indonesia exempts for 169 countries, Malaysia for 164 countries, the Philippines for 160 countries, Singapore for 160 countries and Thailand for 58 countries, according to the document of the Travel Advisory Council in July, 2017. Therefore, inconvenient visa procedures may make visitors not want to visit Vietnam anymore.
According to the World Tourism Organization, entry visa policy has the greatest impact on the flow of international tourism because tourists have to consider the visa application as an additional expense in terms of time and money. If the cost of a destination exceeds their budget for travel, they will not go to that.
Visa exemption will result in a deficit of visa fees but according to experts from the Tourism Group, the benefits are much greater than the lost fees.
Specifically, the total money earned from visa fee of 866,617 visitors coming from five Western European countries was $26 million in 2017. Meanwhile, with the average spending at $1,200 per visitor from these markets, the additional revenue is up to $250 million compared to 2015 when visa exemption was valid.
According to Ha, Vietnam should not only continue visa exemption policy for travelers from five Western European countries but also extend the visa exemption period to five years instead of reviewing each year. If not, the visa exemption plan need to be informed soon.
Ha also proposed to expand the visa-free subjects for Canada, Australia, India or other countries under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The travel industry in Vietnam faces four urgent issues that need to be addressed including tourism policy, people knowing how to do, new and exciting tourism products and effective promotion. Among them, "visa exemption is the best way to attract tourists", said Ha.
Sharing a same view on this problem, Doan Van Binh, Chairman of CEO Group said that although the number of international visitors to Vietnam increased sharply, it is still low compared with that of other countries in the region. In particular, Thailand received more than 35 million visitors, Malaysia welcomed 25.9 million and Indonesia 14 million last year.
Binh emphasized that in order to attract from 17 to 20 million foreign visitors by 2020 and get revenue of $35 billion, appropriate mechanisms and policies should be created to facilitate foreign visitors to Vietnam in addition to the self-help efforts of domestic tourism enterprises.
One of the breakthrough solutions is to expand visa exemption for foreign tourists to Vietnam. "This will help travelers save time and visa costs and then, enhance the attraction of Vietnam tourism industry. In practice, countries which are successful in attracting more than 20 million international visitors per year have visa exemption policy," said Binh.