By An Dien, Thanh Nien News.
In an explicit gesture to resuscitate the ailing tourism sector, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has signed off on visa waivers for five more nationalities, a move highly welcomed by industry insiders.
Under a decision dated June 17, Vietnam will offer visa exemptions for single-entry visits of up to 15 days for visitors from Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and Spain starting this July, Nguyen Van Tuan, general director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, said at an international tourism convention that opened Thursday in the central city of Da Nang.
“This is certainly very good news for Vietnam’s tourism industry,” Tuan said at the convention. “This is one of the new policies by the Vietnamese government aimed at creating an environment conducive to the development of the sector.”
At a recent meeting between PM Nguyen Tan Dung and the Vietnam Business Forum (VBF) — a consortium of international and local business associations and chambers of commerce — members of the Tourism Working Group said issuing visas with a fee is a “short-sighted” policy that hinders tourism development.
The warning came at a time the number of foreign tourists to Vietnam through May dropped 13 percent from the same period last year to about 3.3 million.
‘More to follow’
Insiders are gung-ho about the latest development.
“We hope this is just the first step and there will be more to follow,” Kenneth Atkinson, chairman of the Tourism Working Group, told Thanh Nien News over the phone.
Currently, citizens of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries do not need a visa to enter Vietnam.
The country also waives visa for single-entry visits of up to 15 days for Danish, Finnish, Japanese, Norwegian, Russian, South Korean, Belarusian, and Swedish nationals starting this year until 2019.
Tourism industry insiders in Vietnam have pushed for the easing of visa requirements, arguing that the country will benefit much more with an increase in foreign arrivals.
They have proposed that PM Dung add nine more countries — France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — to the list.
Although India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were not included this time, “five countries is better than nothing,” Atkinson said.
Tourism contributes about 6 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product. The country is looking to notch up economic growth of above 6 percent this year.
Insiders had expressed concern that the current arrival decline would not be able to talk the authorities concerned into relaxing visa regulations. The matter was clearly very complex as it involved several different ministries whose interests were not always aligned, they said.
But given the latest move, “obviously different ministries are starting to realize the gains of visa waivers,” Atkinson said.
“One of my mentors in Vietnam said many years ago: ‘The only time you get decision is when there is crisis’,” he said.