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|The May 2 session of Vietnam Private Sector Economic Forum 2019 on tourism|
In the morning on May 2, at the session about tourism in the Vietnam Private Sector Economic Forum 2019, travel enterprises and functional authorities have discussed the barriers to development to attract 17-20 million international visitors by 2020. During the discussion, visa emerged as one of the major roadblocks to private sector representatives.
In his keynote opening speech for the session, Ngo Van Tuan, vice chairman of the Central Economic Commission, affirmed that 99 per cent of travel enterprises are from the private sector.
Tourism is a wide economic sector and needs to be developed as a key economic sector to boost the development of each region.
Truong Tan Son, representative from Saigontourist, said that to develop tourism in Vietnam, the country should extend its visa exemption policy to more countries or even consider individuals. Vietnam should have a clear orientation to become a resting or shopping heaven.
"We can also actively issue 5-10 year visas for some special markets or high-income people and their relatives who travel frequently,” said Truong Tan Son.
Sharing the idea, Pham Ha, director of Luxury Travel Vietnam Co., Ltd., also suggested that Vietnam should extend visa exemption from the current 15 to 30 days or longer.
"I suggest giving visa exemptions to as many countries as possible. Indonesia has given up visa for 169 countries. Vietnam is a peaceful and friendly country, but has yet to give up visas," Ha said.
Bringing the example of South Korea’s visa policy, Dinh Viet Phuong, deputy general director of Vietjet, said that the number of Vietnamese people travelling to Korea has increased sharply after Korea began giving out five-year visas to Vietnamese nationals.
Vietnam currently gives exemption to 13 nations, including the Russian Federation, Japan, Korea, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Belarus, and for members of the Board of Secretary of the ASEAN, as well as allows e-visa applications for citizens of 80 countries.
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However, according to Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung, even as 10 million Vietnamese people travel abroad each year, they still face many difficulties in applying for visa, even in countries that enjoy visa exemption when entering Vietnam. "Therefore, when developing a visa-related policy, we have to ensure the rights and interests of Vietnamese citizens," Dung said.
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Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, deputy director of the Consular Department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also expressed that visa exemption is not the linchpin of the Vietnamese tourism market.
Huong Lan also quoted that according to a report from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the growth rate of visitors from countries like the US or Canada is higher than countries that enjoy visa exemption. She also rejected the idea that Vietnam's visa ranking affects the competitiveness of its tourism industry.
Huong Lan also said that visa is one of the criteria to assess openness to the world, but does not fully decide the competitiveness of a country. For example, countries such as Spain, Japan or the US have high competitiveness in tourism, although their visa policies are not too open.
Nguyen Van Thong, deputy director of the National Web Portal on Immigration under the Ministry of Public Security, agreed with Nguyen Thi Huong Lan and said that visa is not a major criteria for tourists to choose on a holiday destination.
Van Thong also affirmed that visa application procedures in Vietnam are simple and only take three days. Along with that, the National Web Portal on Immigration would consult with the Ministry of Public Security to amend and supplement some articles in immigration law No.47/2014/QH13 to create more conditions for foreigners to enter Vietnam.
The tourism session at the Vietnam Private Sector Economic Forum 2019 continued with prolonged arguments from other private sector representatives.
Luong Hoai Nam, deputy CEO of Vietstar Airlines Multirole Corporation (VSA), a member of the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), gave the example that Thailand welcomed a million Vietnamese tourists in 2018.
“If Thailand did not provide visa exemption, how many Vietnamese people would have gone to Thailand?” Nam said, making a case for visa being an important part of the travel policies of major countries.
According to Nam, the group of rich customers, who are not from the 13 countries enjoying visa exemption in Vietnam, asked why Vietnam does not extend its policy to them when countries like Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia have already done so.
In addition, Kenneth Atkinson, chairman of Grant Thornton Vietnam, said that the government need to make information related to visa more transparent. He thought that websites and policies disseminating information are hard to find. Visitors to Vietnam find it difficult to seek out information and the result of their visa application.
To balance ideas at the session, Nguyen Quoc Ky, CEO of Vietravel, proposed that Vietnam needs a flexible visa policy. Ky also pointed out the disadvantages in exempting visa for 13 countries, saying, “Some of the countries which enjoy visa exemption provide hardly any visitors or the exemption has not increased their tourism market share. While other countries that already show good growth without visa exemption could be accelerated even further. Therefore, it is necessary to amend the visa policy.”
Acknowledging the recommendations from private travel and airline enterprises, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung affirmed that the ministry will always stand on the side of the tourism industry, continue to listen and build new policies, creating favourable conditions for international tourists to enter Vietnam.