Foreign tourists in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in downtown HCMC, November 2022. Photo by Thanh LocVisa hassles, limited international flights and poor tourism services are dissuading foreign tourists from returning to Vietnam post-pandemic.
“So many people have changed their destination to travel to Thailand where they can get visa-free entry of up to 90 days, instead of Vietnam which requires visa runs every month,” Miquel Angel, founder of the MQL sustainable travel solutions company, told VnExpress.
Angel said he was worried that visa problems could cause his company to lose potential partners.
He said one of his partners planned to come to Vietnam as a tourist and attend a meeting here. They booked a hotel and fixed a venue for the meeting. However, when the guests arrived at the airport, they were told not to fly to Vietnam because of visa policies.
Before Covid, visa regulations were pretty clear and everyone knew what to do. They needed to send the list of all those wishing to apply for a visa, add necessary documents and the results were sent via fax or e-mail. With the approval document, one could board a plane and get a visa on arrival at any port of entry in Vietnam.
After Covid, the visa procedures are not as clear, confusing foreigners and making it difficult for them to apply for a visa, Angel said.
Vietnam opened its doors partially to foreign tourists with tour packages to specific destinations in November 2021, before fully opening up on March 15. However, it has stopped the practice of issuing multi-entry visas for three months or longer, and is only issuing 30-day, single entry visas now.
The limited number of international flights is another barrier to Vietnam’s tourism recovery.
Angel remarked that there were less international flights to Vietnam after the pandemic and it would be difficult for foreigners to come to Vietnam at this time.
Nguyen Ngoc Toan, director of the Images Travel Company, which focuses on European visitors, said the industry was facing the challenges of limited international flights and skyrocketing airfares that made foreign tourists consider choosing destinations near their homes to save money.
Vietnam received over 2.35 million foreign visitors in January-October, less than half of this year’s five-million target.
The number of foreign visitors this year is forecast to see a drop of 77% against 2019, making Vietnam one of slowest recovering tourism economies post pandemic, according to a report released by leading travel data & analytics company ForwardKeys.
However, visa and limited flights are not the really deep-rooted problems for Vietnam tourism.
Before the pandemic, Vietnam already recorded a low rate of return visitors at less than 10% against the figure of 70% in Thailand. Many foreigners said they had to face traffic dangers, noise pollution and scams while traveling in Vietnam.
German tourist Eric Warnken, who has visited Vietnam many times, said garbage, noise and road safety were his biggest concerns when he was in the country.
“The noise would be made everywhere by huge loudspeakers, often into early mornings, or by neighbors who are drunk and singing karaoke for hours, even though they can’t sing at all,” he said.
“Road traffic danger is also a problem. Motorcyclists do not stop at red lights and drive on footpaths. Nobody stops at crosswalks.”
American tourist Justin Thompson said Vietnam seemed to be prioritizing economic development and new resorts over proper management of tourist resources.
“The otherwise beautiful coastline and countryside is spoiled by trash while museum exhibits lack good translated captions to educate visitors about Vietnam’s cultural and historical heritage, and many urban architectural treasures from the 20th century are being removed to make room for new buildings,” he noted.
Asked if she would return to Vietnam if she had a chance, Eliza Nahapet of Armenia was emphatic: “No, I won’t come back to Vietnam again.”
She said careless drivers, traffic dangers and fraudsters had left a bad impression on her when she visited Vietnam for three months before the pandemic.
To attract more foreign tourists and fulfil this year’s target, the tourism industry has been looking for ways to turn Vietnam into a better destination.
Nguyen Van Hung, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, has proposed that Vietnam expands visa exemption for tourists from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Europe, and the U.S. to boost recovery after more than two years of pandemic restrictions.
The government has sought recommendations from the tourism, foreign affairs and public security ministries for expanding the list of countries whose nationals can obtain visas online.
Officials have been working with travel agencies and aviation operators to boost tourism campaigns and promote Vietnam as a safe destination at international travel fairs.
Vu The Binh, chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said the industry has been witnessing a gradual recovery after reopening, but the quality of tourism services needed more attention, especially now, as the peak year-end travel season begins.