Smoothing passage

Mr. Frans Nederstigt from the Netherlands decided to bring his family to Vietnam for a vacation this year after previously visiting Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The reason he chose Vietnam was to see how it may differ from these other countries. His two-week trip didn’t disappoint. 

Friendly, hospitable and accommodating people, lots of different accommodation to choose from, cheap travel, great food, interesting history and culture, and beautiful scenery counted among the many positives in Vietnam for Mr. Nederstigt. 

“Vietnam is the perfect destination for families with children,” he said, and if he ever has the chance, he will visit once again. 

Foreign tourists surge 

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Mr. Nederstigt was one of 1.1 million European tourists visiting Vietnam in the first seven months of this year, up 22.2 per cent, with international tourist numbers growing 28.8 per cent year-on-year to 7.2 million, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO). 

Those from China totaled 2.2 million, up an incredible 51 per cent year-on-year. Vietnam’s northern neighbor has led as a source market for a number of years, accounting for 20-25 per cent of the total. Quang Ninh, Da Nang, and Nha Trang are among their favorite destinations.  

The number of tourists from South Korea, meanwhile, rose 46.8 per cent year-on-year in the first seven months, to 1.26 million, while those from the Americas reached 505,000, up 10.6 per cent year, of which the US accounted for 377,000, an increase of 9.5 per cent. 

Visitors from Australia totaled 245,800, up 10.8 per cent, and those from Africa increased 34 per cent to 14,900. 

Such impressive figures continue on from a successful 2016 for the country’s tourism sector, when Vietnam hit a record of almost 10 million international tourist arrivals, a 25 per cent increase against 2015 and exceeding all expectations. 

The industry earned VND400 trillion ($17.6 billion) in revenue, contributed 7.5 per cent to GDP, and was a bright spot for the economy. 

The handsome growth, according to Mr. Nguyen Van Tuan, Director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), is due to the efforts of the tourism sector as a whole. 

The sector was given a boost at the beginning of the year, he went on, when the Politburo issued Decree No. 8 in January, seeking the participation of the political systems, all sectors, and society to develop the country’s tourism sector. 

“This has never been seen before,” he said, and he believes the measure will create a situation where the sector is no longer reliant on resolving all of its problems by itself. 

The most important point of the decree is the determination and understanding of the whole management apparatus regarding tourism, according to Mr. Vu The Binh, Deputy Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association. 

“All agree that tourism has the necessary conditions to become a key economic sector,” he said. “When all levels, sectors, ministries, and political agencies are focused on its development, it’s sure to see positive changes.” 

Following on from Decree No. 8, the tourism sector also benefited from the amended Law on Tourism being passed in June, which is expected to facilitate tourism revenue of $35 billion from 17 to 20 million international tourists by 2020. 

“Tourism is flourishing,” Mr. Tuan said. “For it to become a key economic sector and contribute more than 10 per cent of GDP, however, requires long-term, coordinated policies.”  

Among improvements made, visa exemption policies have proven effective, with greater numbers of tourists arriving from the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy since exemptions were introduced in July 2015. 

In the first year, numbers totaled 720,000, an increase of 96,000 compared to 2014, with spending at $126 million. 

The number of foreign visitors is expected to surge now the Vietnamese Government has approved an online visa system for travelers on short holidays or business trips. 

Information from the Department of Tourism under the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism shows that as at May 30, four months after the scheme started, some 22,000 tourists from the US, the UK, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Slovakia, Japan, Switzerland, and China have requested e-visas on the country’s immigration portal. 

Some 21,000 received e-visas, 12,000 of whom have already entered the country. 

Sustainable growth 

Growth may be undeniable, but the target of 17 to 20 million international tourists and $35 billion in revenue by 2020 won’t be easy to achieve given the obstacles still in place. 

If it turns out the visa policy is insufficient, Mr. Hoang Nhan Chinh, Head of the Tourism Advisory Secretariat Board at the Vietnam Private Sector Forum (VPSF), proposed an extension to the visa exemption period, from 15 to 30 days. 

“Western European tourists have high levels of spending and would prefer to stay longer, so the government should apply a 30-day visa exemption policy shortly,” he said.  

He also proposed that six additional countries be subject to visa exemptions: Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, and Switzerland. 

“Exemptions for 23 countries is too few compared to elsewhere in the region,” he said. 

These are tourists, he went on, that spend tidy sums and pose no security or immigration risk, and are exempted from visas in 170 other countries. 

The government should also extend the existing visa exemption program from one year to five years and announce exemptions no less than six months prior to them taking effect. 

“It’s also important to remove the regulation stipulating that each visa-free entry must be at least 30 days apart,” he emphasized. 

For travel businesses such as Vietravel, good visa and promotion policies help with long-term business plans, according to Mr. Nguyen Quoc Ky, General Director of the company. 

The target of $35 billion in revenue by 2020 is expected generate 2 million jobs, so the government must make investment commensurate with potential. 

He proposed it invest in international research programs, develop a tourism development strategy, expand source markets, and loosen visa restrictions. 

“More importantly, policies should bring long-term stability,” he said. 

“The government currently offers visa exemptions for a number of countries for a one-year period, but this should be longer so that tour operators can plan ahead.” 

He agrees that the government should remove the regulation that each entry must be at least 30 days apart, as this affects destination connections, which is a trend nowadays. 

“Visitors who come to Vietnam and then want to visit Cambodia, for example, aren’t allowed back into Vietnam for 30 days,” he said. 

“Many Japanese tourists like to visit more than one country during one holiday, so this regulation affects Japanese tourist numbers.”

The national budget for tourism promotion, at a measly $2 million per year, is too low compared to other ASEAN countries, Mr. Tran Trong Kien, Chairman and CEO of the Thien Minh Group, believes. 

And existing tourism promotion programs lack focus. So, over the next few years, the sector needs to pay greater attention to high-spending, long-term, and stable markets, including Europe (Germany, the UK, and France), China (mainland China and Hong Kong), Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore), North America (the US and Canada), Australia, North Asia (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan), and Russia. 

Along with other private sector enterprises attending the second Vietnam Private Sector Forum on July 31, Mr. Kien committed to building a sustainable tourism industry with specific goals, such as improving Vietnam’s competitiveness ranking, addressing problems previous tourists have identified, and increasing the return rate from 2 to 4 per cent. 

“These are challenging goals for the tourism industry and require multi-disciplinary cooperation,” he said. 

VN Economic Times

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