According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the country welcomed 10 million international tourists and generated revenue of VND400 trillion (US$17.62 billion) last year. The respective figures are expected to rise to 13 million and VND500 trillion this year.

Luong Hoai Nam, deputy general director of Vietstar Airlines, told the seminar that some key indicators of Vietnam’s tourism were positive but the overall ranking remained poor.

Particularly, the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index put Vietnam at 34th in natural resources, 30th in cultural resources and 37th in tourism workforce. However, regarding the overall hospitality industry, WEF put Vietnam at 67th among 136 countries in tourism competitiveness.

With 10 million international arrivals last year, Vietnam was still inferior to Thailand with 32.6 million foreign tourist arrivals, Malaysia with 26.8 million and Singapore with 16.4 million.

Nam attributed the tourism underdevelopment to a lack of qualified products, saying there should be theme parks, for example, which could retain tourists for an additional half to a day and increase their spending by 10% excluding accommodation expenses.

Nguyen Quoc Ky, chairman and general director of Vietravel, pointed out shortcomings of local tourism products such as inconsiderable number of products, overlapping products in different localities and lack of shopping centers and amusement parks to increase visitors’ spending.

Despite an increase in the number of international guests, their average spending tends to fall over the past years.

According to a survey of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism in 2014, spending of a foreign visitor to Vietnam totaled some US$1,100, below US$1,300 ten years earlier. In 2014, an international tourist to Vietnam spent US$125 a day on average, below some other ASEAN countries such as Thailand (US$150) and Singapore (US$153).

Visa policy a stumbling block

In addition, policy shortcomings on visa application and immigration procedures are other obstacles to tourism sector growth.

Only visitors from 23 countries to Vietnam are exempted from visa application and they enjoy a shorter visa-free stay than in other countries, reducing the competitiveness of local tourism and the added value of the sector.

Meanwhile, Thailand has offered visa exemptions for tourists from 61 countries, Malaysia 55 countries and Singapore 157 countries. Moreover, Vietnam’s online visa and visa on arrival services are as not as good as in other countries.

As for solutions to develop the sector, Nguyen Dinh Cung, president of the Central Institute for Economic Management, said the country should offer visa exemptions for more countries.

Tourists from developed countries do not care about visa application fees, but lament complex visa issuance procedures, said Nam.

Therefore, Vietnam should relax visa requirements, exempt visas for tourists from more countries, develop online visa service and simplify visa on arrival procedures.

Saigon Times - December 26, 2017