The government extended the original visa waiver period that ended June 30 2017 for another year for travellers from five European countries (UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain). That extension ends 30 June this year.

There are opposing views on what should happen. Tour operators who sell tours to the five European nations say the waiver should be in place for five years and offer a 30-day stay. It should also be valid for multiple entries during the 30-day period to allow them to visit neighbouring countries and return to their Vietnam holiday base.

But there is also a strong lobby that says visas help immigration track foreigners and raise security in an age troubled by cross-border crime and terrorism.

Another group worries that the government will lose valuable revenue from visa fees if visa-free travel becomes a permanent feature. They estimate that the one-time USD25 visa fee guarantees revenue from the citizens of more than 100 countries outside of the visa-free category.

That argument is quickly shot down by tourism researchers, who claim tourists spend at least USD100 per day when they visit Vietnam, a figure that clearly outstrips visa fee revenue.

Although the media attention focuses on the five European nations, Vietnam offers visa-free travel on a permanent basis to 22 countries including nine ASEAN member nations.

Of the more than 12 million tourists who visited Vietnam in 2017, the major suppliers are from Asia, not Europe, led by China, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan and Cambodia.

ASEAN passport holders can stay in the country for up to 30 days, while Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Japanese, South Korean and Russian travellers, can stay for 15 days without a visa.

Chinese travellers who lead the supply chart still require a visa. It doesn’t seem to deter the flow.

Vietnam has made advances in easing the process of obtaining a visa and one of the most useful tools is the eVisa.

However, Vietnam’s online eVisa service lacks some of the user-friendly features that Myanmar’s eVisa offers and it shows.

Vietnam could go along way to resolving the visa issue by making its eVisa more user-friendly. This would require more international credit card payment options and ensuring a 24-hour turnaround of the approval process.

Perhaps, the call for visa-free travel might not be the answer for Vietnam. Vietnam doesn’t have to emulate the visa-free travel policies of neighbouring Thailand. Opening the eVisa channel to more nationalities and making the process easier to navigate would help to attract more visitors.

Paying a fee is not the issue. Travelling to a consulate or having to waste time processing a paper visa application and filing it in person are the real deterrents.

A more comprehensive eVisa scheme would allow authorities a channel to check application in advance to satisfy security concerns.

It would be welcomed by travellers and end the uncertainties of temporary waiver schemes.

However, critics are correct to point out that 15 days is far too short for any kind of travel permission. The minimum should be 30 days with an option to apply for multiple entries within that period for travellers who intend to use Vietnam as a gateway to explore neighbouring countries.

By Don Ross - TTR Weekly - February 28, 2018