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Best year ever: Vietnam greets 10 millionth tourist

Foreign visitors surged 25 percent from last year, reaching an unexpected, all-time high.

Vietnam welcomed its 10 millionth foreign tourist of 2016 on Sunday afternoon, marking a booming tourism year that exceeded all expectations.

Michael Tonge of the United Kingdom was greeted with flowers at Phu Quoc airport by central and local authorities.

Tonge said he had seen many tourists return from Vietnam who were thrilled with its beautiful beaches and amazing food.

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Michael Tonge from the U.K. is welcomed by Vietnam’s foreign minister Nguyen Ngoc Thien in Phu Quoc on Sunday. Photo courtesy by Vietnam National Administration of Tourism

Andrej Marek Balzer of Germany entered the country immediately after Tonge and also received a warm welcome.

Last year, the country welcomed just 7.9 million tourists and expected just 8.5 million this year.

Authorities are now celebrating the record arrivals, as well as the biggest annual improvement of all time – 25 percent.

The industry made VND400 trillion ($17.6 billion), contributing 7.5 percent to the GDP and definitely offering one of the few bright spots in an economy that’s highly likely to miss its annual growth target.

Tourism minister Nguyen Ngoc Thien attributed the strong growth to an unprecedented 20 percent increase in arrivals from Europe. Visitors from Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. can now visit Vietnam for 15 days without a visa.

Vietnam is also offering visa exemption to tourists from South Korea and Japan, which are the second and third-largest feeder markets after China.

Hoping to give the tourism industry a bigger push, the Vietnamese government has approved an online visa system for travelers on short holidays or casual business visits.

The new visa rule, which is expected to come into effect this February, will not apply to all visitors, but be limited to Vietnam’s top feeder markets.

Tourism authorities are expecting an additional 15-percent increase in international tourists next year (11.5 million arrivals) and revenues of VND460 trillion ($20.2 billion).

Thien said the growth momentum will hopefully turn tourism into a key economic driver by 2020, when it will contribute 10 percent of the GDP.

Article by VNExpress.

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