"The hassle of getting a visa is seriously hampering Vietnam in attracting tourists," Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the National Administration of Tourism, said in an interview in Hanoi Wednesday. "The application process is easier, faster and more convenient in other countries in the region."

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has agreed to offer "unilateral visa exemptions" to countries that have sent high numbers of visitors to Vietnam in recent years, Mr Tuan said, declining to give more details.

Tourist arrivals in the Southeast Asian nation fell for a fifth month in May, with the biggest declines from Thailand, China and Cambodia.

Tourism contributes about 6% of Vietnam's gross domestic product, according to the government, which is trying to spur economic growth to above 6% this year. About 3.3 million tourists visited the country through May, a 13% drop from the same period last year.

Starting this year through 2019, Vietnam will offer visa exemptions to visitors from Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, and Sweden.

But tourism officials have asked Mr Dung to add nine more countries to the list: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK.

The planned fund will be used to train workers in the industry, hold roadshows and set up tourism offices overseas, Mr Tuan said. Up to 30% of the money will come from the state budget, with the rest from tourism companies, he said.

To better compete with countries such as Singapore and Thailand, Vietnam aims to improve its facilities and simplify the visa process, Mr Tuan said. Tourists are sometimes asked to pay an "unofficial" fee in addition to the official tariff.

"We need to improve the domestic tourism environment to be more attractive to visitors," he said. "It's crucial."

Bloomberg News - June 3, 2015