Visa fee hike hotly debated at tourism conference

Visa fee hike for international visitors to Vietnam provoked fierce protests at a conference on tourism in the southern region held by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in HCMC on Wednesday.

Tour operators and tourism officials shared the view that visa fee increase would be a step backward in tourism development and international integration. It will drag down the number of foreign tourist arrivals in the current difficult situation.

Under Circular 90/2012/TT/BTC of the Ministry of Finance, the fee for issue of a one- time visa will be raised from $25 to $45 on January 1, 2013.

Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said the policy on visa fee hike untimely came out when inbound tourism was experiencing hardship. It will hinder efforts of the tourism authorities to attract international tourists in 2013.

Moreover, entrepreneurs voiced their concern over the information that foreign visitors from certain markets to Vietnam would no longer enjoy visa exemptions in the coming time.

“Visa fee increase and removal of visa-free policy may bring some benefits, but please consider the common good, consider the major source of foreign currency generated from tourists and give a second thought to this policy,” said Nguyen Van Tran, general director of APEX Travel Co. Ltd.

Previously, APEX proposed extending visa-free stay for Japanese visitors from 15 to 30 days in a bid to lure elderly tourists from this country to resorts in Vietnam. This is a fertile source of tourists, whose demand for relaxing has grown after the earthquake and tsunami horror in Japan early last year.

So far, there has been no response to this proposal, so the plan for attracting such tourists must be put on hold.

Nguyen Van Tuan, general director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, said visa fee hike was the greatest displeasure of enterprises at present, but the tourism authorities could not effect a change.

“We have submitted our petition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but it has not been considered yet,” he said.

In the year to date, Vietnam has welcomed some 6.6 million international tourist arrivals, up 10 pct against last year.

Currently, Vietnam is granting visa exemptions for citizens of some nations. Specifically, those holding passports of Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Laos enjoy visa exemption when staying less than 30 days in Vietnam.

The period of visa-free stay for tourists from the Philippines is 21 days and Brunei 14 days.

Visitors from Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia and Finland are not required to obtain visa for a less-than-15-day stay in Vietnam.

The latest tourism report shows that the numbers of domestic and foreign tourists are still growing in 2012. However, representatives of travel firms and hotels said they had not seen any bright signal for tourism growth in the future.

Although the Government has defined tourism as a spearhead industry, investment in this industry is insufficient and ubiquitous barriers make it difficult for enterprises to lure tourists.

As per the plan for a tourism stimulus program in 2013, hotels, tour operators, air and road passenger transporters and tourist sites across the country are encouraged to join the program to reduce service prices by 10-30% during the off-season.

In addition, management agencies and enterprises will organize promotion programs and familiarization trips for foreign media and travel firms to promote the image of tourism in Vietnam.

To carry out the tourism stimulus program, the tourism ministry will propose a 50% value added tax cut and corporate income tax exemption for tour operators, hotels and transporters during the run of the program.

Source SGT