Tourist visa exemptions necessary
Tourism experts have proposed that the government continue offering unilateral tourist visa exemptions for travellers from major markets to attract more visitors and generate revenue.
Vietnam has been implementing a pilot visa exemption programme for tourists from Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland for eight years.
While the government is considering the programme’s effectiveness, some economists proposed a halt, stating that no visa fees have been collected from these tourists for the State budget.
A tourist visa to Vietnam currently costs US$45 and if the exemption programme continues, the State coffers will lose about US$50 million.
At a recent conference in Hanoi, the Vietnam Tourism Association (VTA) Vice President Vu The Binh argued that the loss of visa fees are just a drop in the ocean compared to the huge amount of revenue the tourism sector brings in every year.
Last year, Vietnam attracted approximately 1.5 million visitors from Japan, the RoK and Russia. If each visitor spent an average of US$1,500 during their stay, the tourism sector would earn US$2.1 billion and contribute US$210 million in VAT to the State budget.
While Vietnam may lose several tens of millions of US dollars from visa exemptions each year, it will gain billions of US dollars from the increasing numbers of foreign tourists visiting the country.
“We should not miss out on US$210 million in VAT only to get US$50 million from visa fees, not to mention the other benefits these markets can bring to the country like employment, for example,” Binh said.
“In addition, visitors from these markets offer high pay for services which suit the national tourism development strategy until 2020 and beyond,” he said.
At the conference, representatives of travel
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“Tourists must travel to the embassy to register and wait for a long time to get a visa….. If visa fees reinstated, Russian tourists will choose other destinations instead of Vietnam,” said Luu Duc Ke, Director of Hanoutourist.
According to travel operators, only tourists who enjoy discovering a country’s natural and cultural attraction will wait for visas to be issued. Other tourists consider quick visa clearance procedures, safety and high quality services as most important. Those from Russia and Northern European countries belong to the second group.
“If Vietnam wants to develop marine tourism, it needs to further simplify its policies to support foreign travellers,” said Nguyen Xuan Quynh, managing director of Vietnam Now Travel.
Tour operators calculated that if the government stops the pilot programme, the number of foreign visitors to Vietnam will drop by 50%. They said the time involved to get a visa is a big obstacle to visitors.
It is worth mentioning that visitors from Japan, the RoK and Russia account for a quarter of all foreign arrivals in Vietnam and one third of the country’s total tourism revenue.
Pham Tu, former General Director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), recalled that after visas were first waived for tourists from Japan in 2005, the policy proved successful and it was replicated for visitors from other key markets.
“Tourist visa exemptions are one of the crucial factors in encouraging foreign visitors to Vietnam,” said Tu. “I think the government should expand the pilot programme to other key markets.”
In Southeast Asia, Malaysia offers visa exemptions for tourists from 155 countries and territories, while Thailand applies a similar policy for tourists from 55 foreign markets. Indonesia also grants visas on arrival at its border gates to tourists from 24 countries.
Incumbent VNAT General Director Nguyen Van Tuan declared that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism will propose that the government continue the visa exemption programme.
Visa exemption to lure more local tourists to Myanmar
– Travel enterprises expect that the visa exemption agreement for ordinary passport holders signed between Vietnam and Myanmar will help attract more Vietnamese tourists to the peer ASEAN nation in the future.
Under the agreement, citizens of both countries who hold ordinary passports valid for at least six months beyond the date of arrival will not require visas for stays up to 14 days. The decision will take effect from October 26.
The visa exemption will help local travelers save US$30 for visa application fees and save them the time-consuming process of waiting for visa procedures. Currently, visitors in HCMC have to send their passports to Hanoi for visa applications and wait for four to five days, the enterprises said.
The visa exemption will facilitate travel, investment and trade as Myanmar is the only nation in ASEAN that grants visas at the embassy in Hanoi City only, said Vo Anh Tai, general director of Saigontourist Travel Service Company.
Saigontourist has seen more local
heading to Myanmar. Last month, the enterprise sent three groups and the figure may increase when Myanmar’s rainy season is over.
Fiditour Company has also organized four or five trips to Myanmar every month. In early 2012, Fiditour signed a tourist exchange agreement with Myanmar Tourism Service Company to develop the market.
This has resulted in the number of tourists increasing by 20%. The market will rise further as local enterprises are keen to explore the new market while many others want to reach the country for pilgrimages or sightseeing.
Tu Quy Thanh, director of Lien Bang Travelink Company, said that the company organizes a trip to Myanmar every month, mainly for those who seek investment and business opportunities in the country. The visa exemption will encourage more tourists to visit Myanmar.
However, Thanh said tour prices to Myanmar are rather high compared to other regional countries, ranging from VND16-18 million for a five-day trip. There are only three direct flights between HCMC and Yangon per week, so many people in the city have to travel from HCMC to Hanoi City to fly to Yangon if they want to travel on other days.
Tour discovers Vietnamese civilisations
Join a tour to the Viet Nam Museum of History this Saturday to discover how a variety of civilisations have shaped Vietnamese history.
Hosted by Friends of Viet Nam Heritage (FVH) – a group of Ha Noi foreign residents who work voluntarily to promote and preserve Vietnamese cultural and historical heritage - the English-speaking tour will start at 8.15am.
Along the way, visitors will take a look at the development of such crafts as bronze making, ceramics and woodcarving.
Then, while taking a short break in the atmospheric courtyard, they will learn about the important architecture of the museum and the contribution of French craftsmen to the current atmosphere of Ha Noi.
Visitors will go back inside the museum to learn about major events that have made Viet Nam the