At a meeting Tuesday between Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Vietnam Business Forum (VBF)--a consortium of international and local business associations and chambers of commerce, members of the Tourism Working Group said issuing visas with a fee is a “short-sighted” policy that hinders tourism development.

The conference was held after figures showed the number of foreign tourists through May dropped 13 percent from the same period last year to about 3.3 million, local media reported.

Kenneth Atkinson, representative of the group, shared a story to prove that Vietnam's visa requirements have hurt tourism.

He said a European couple traveled around Southeast Asia but did not stop by Vietnam. They wanted to see the country but eventually decided that the visa fee was too high, as high as the cost for staying two more nights at a hotel in Bangkok.

In a statement lodged to relevant ministries on Tuesday, Atkinson said any destination, however attractive it is, will fail to win tourists due to inconvenient visa policies.

Vietnam is losing out to Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia, he said.

"No matter how strong and interesting the promotion campaigns are, tourists still face difficulty in accessing the country because of its visa policy," he said.

Higher revenues

Vietnam is charging a tourist an average of $70 of visa and processing fee, which translates to around $11 million of visa revenues every year, according to the group’s calculations.

Atkinson said the country can actually gain much more if it opens the door to tourists.

For example, if the government provides visa waivers for tourists from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, the arrival number of this group is going to increase around 10 percent from the current 1.6 million a year.

He said these tourists usually stay for 11.3 days on average and spend around $102 each day, which means the extra visitors will bring Vietnam around $188 million per year.

The government will collect taxes and a lot more jobs will be created, he said.

Vietnam is offering visa exemptions to visitors from Russia, Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, and other Southeast Asian nations.

Tourism officials have asked the prime minister to add nine more countries France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to the list. They have asked the government to look at examples in nearby countries.

Thailand exempts visas for visitors from 61 other countries, Malaysia 85 and Singapore 150, and their tourism has been doing much better than Vietnam.

Thailand received 24.8 million foreign arrivals last year, Malaysia 27.4 million and Singapore 15.1 million, according to figures provided at the conference. Less than eight million foreigners came to Vietnam last year.

By Manh Quan - Thanh Nien News - June 11, 2015