Finally, after years of industry lobbying, it looks as if Vietnam is finally about to scrap visas for travellers from key tourism markets including the UK, Australia, France and more.
Whilst the changes have been spurred by a 12-month decline in tourism numbers, the issue has been bubbling away in the background for years. I served on the Vietnam Business Forum’s Tourism Working Group from 2008-2012, and even back then a relaxing of Vietnam’s outdated and restrictive visa policies was the main item on our agenda – whilst the relevant ministries wanted to focus on destination marketing, we pointed out that spending money on marketing campaigns was pointless if you then made it hard for people to actually get into the country! As the old marketing maxim goes, “Find out what people want, and make it easy for them to get it”.
Unless you’re ASEAN national, or from a country – usually Communist or ex-eastern bloc – with close historical ties to Vietnam, you can’t just turn up in Vietnam on the spur of the moment & get a visa. The country’s “visa on arrival” system is actually anything but – you need to apply in advance to a tour operator or visa agent for an authorisation letter to actually get your visa, and with a basic visa starting at US$45, entry is expensive as well as complicated. The net result of this has been to discourage repeat visits (Vietnam’s return visitor rate hovers around the 5% mark), and to kill off the short break market – why head to Saigon for a weekend when you’ve got to go through the hassle and expense of getting a visa?
Fortunately it seems as if common sense has finally prevailed and visitors from key markets can get a 15-day stay without bothering with visas. Great news for travellers, and great news for Vietnam’s tourism industry. Assuming the changes go ahead, expect another tourism boom for this fascinating country – and plenty more business opportunities for businesses supplying the country’s tourism & hospitality industry!
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