Time at Vietnam (UTC+07:00) 04:13:40 PM, Sunday, 26 May 2024

High Hopes: Vietnam Expected to Open Visa Access for European Guests

Experts anticipate that the entire EU bloc or some of its members will be added to Vietnam's list of visa-exempt countries, as this market holds a group of "quality" tourists.

In Directive No. 15/2 urging key tasks after the Tet holiday, the Prime Minister requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promptly summarize and evaluate the implementation of unilateral visa exemption policies for citizens of 13 countries in the past period. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security need to propose the expansion of countries whose citizens are unilaterally exempted from visas to Vietnam.

Responding to VnExpress, Mr. Martin Koerner - a member of the Tourism & Hospitality Subcommittee of the European Business Association in Vietnam (EuroCham) - said visa exemption is a "powerful tool" for tourism development, attracting international visitors by reducing costs and time for tourists. Research by the World Tourism Organization shows that visa exemption can increase the number of tourists by 25%, stimulating demand for tourism services such as accommodation, transportation, dining, entertainment, and shopping.

Mr. Martin proposes visa exemption for all citizens of the European Union (EU) and emphasizes that this is "necessary." According to him, the EU is Vietnam's strategic tourism market, and EU tourists are conscious about environmental protection, local culture, and law compliance. They also frequently contribute to the development of local tourism by sharing experiences, providing feedback, and supporting sustainable and responsible tourism activities.

Granting visa exemptions to EU citizens makes Vietnam more attractive and accessible, "encouraging this group to travel and stay longer," Mr. Martin said. Last year, EuroCham proposed visa exemption for the entire EU bloc, but it was unsuccessful.

Before Vietnam considers expanding its tourism visa policy, Mr. Martin hopes that at least citizens of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, and Belgium will be considered first. These are all leading European tourist markets, especially the Netherlands. 

Mr. Pham Ha, Chairman of Lux Group - a luxury cruise company - shares a similar view and wishes for the Government to consider visa exemptions for other key markets such as the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Mr. Ha said Europe is a place with "quality guests," and tourists find it easy to come to Vietnam because of direct flights from the UK, France, and Germany.

Last year, Vietnam also made some changes to its visa policy by extending the validity period of e-visas to 90 days, allowing multiple entries, and increasing the visa exemption period from 15 days to 45 days for citizens of 13 countries. Martin Koerner said this change has boosted Vietnam's tourism economy but "has not been entirely successful" without increasing the number of countries exempted from visas.

Mr. Martin said other countries in the region, especially Thailand, are doing well in capturing markets through open visa policies. Currently, Vietnam grants visa exemptions to tourists from 25 countries, compared to 162 for Malaysia and Singapore, 157 for the Philippines, 68 for Japan, 66 for South Korea, and 64 for Thailand. Mr. Martin emphasized that Thailand also exempts visas for major source markets such as the EU or China - Vietnam's primary source of tourists.

According to the General Statistics Office, Asia was Vietnam's largest source of international tourists last year with 9.78 million arrivals, led by South Korea (28%), China (24%), followed by Taiwan, the United States, and Japan. However, the number of Chinese tourists to Vietnam last year was 4.1 million fewer than in 2019. Statistics show that the recovery rate of European and Asian markets is still slow - reaching 67% and 68% respectively. 

In addition to visa exemptions, Mr. Pham Ha hopes for "collaboration" between Vietnam and countries in the region to provide tourists with "a journey to multiple destinations." In early February, Thailand proposed cooperation with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia to introduce a common visa policy, allowing EU citizens to travel freely with a visa from one of the five countries.

"Travel companies like us have long desired a simple visa policy. It's truly a dream," Mr. Ha said, also stating that cooperation helps them easily design long-term itineraries for tourists. Trips following this itinerary are especially popular with Western tourists - a group that accounts for 25% of Lux Group's total guests. Mr. Ha hopes this number can increase to 40% when cooperation agreements between countries are passed.

Mr. Pham Hai Quynh, Director of the Institute for Tourism Development in Asia, said tourism units certainly want Vietnam to exempt visas for developed countries. However, the decision to open up to which markets needs to be determined by many ministries and sectors, not just tourism. Mr. Quynh said expanding visa exemptions creates favorable conditions to stimulate international tourism demand but requires "ensuring safety and risk management."

Another proposal from EuroCham to attract international tourists is that Vietnam needs to promote outbound tourism better, aggressively promoting at international trade fairs such as ITB Berlin, WTM London, or ILTM Shanghai. Additionally, Vietnam should consider opening tourism representative offices abroad in key markets to support promotion.

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