Vietnam remains tough on visas


(eTN) – Despite, or because of, its tourism success, Vietnam authorities still keep on with fairly strict visa procedures. And no change is around the corner even if Vietnam National Administration of Tourism indicates that the government is looking to open a more flexible visa policy.

Vietnam, as well as the rest of Indochina, is so far ASEAN’s biggest success story of the last decade. Like its neighbours Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam has seen the tourist arrivals growing by double-digit numbers. In 2007, the success story repeated itself once more: the country received a new record of 4.16 million travelers, up by 17.2 percent.

According to Pham Quang Hung, director of International Cooperation Department of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), the country is on track to reach five million international travellers by next year. Despite growing numbers, Vietnam is one of the last ASEAN countries (including Myanmar) to still request a visa before to depart. Of course, there are always exceptions that authorities are still to point out–some ASEAN countries, Scandinavia, South Korea and Japan are provided with a visa-free access. All together, they represented 1.47 million travellers in 2007 or 35 percent of all arrivals. Since last year, Overseas Vietnamese (“Viet Kheu”) are also exempted.

But how about the remaining 65 percent? And why Vietnam does not implement a visa-on-arrival procedure such as in Indonesia, Laos or Cambodia? Visa-on-arrivals are possible but only through a sponsor such as a travel agency or a hotel but the procedure is rather discouraging to encourage spontaneous tourism.

As more low-cost airlines ply Vietnam skies, most of the travelers can’t book a last minute flight. Especially, if they would decide to leave on a week-end as embassies are close and generally need two days to issue the visa stamp.

“We are conscious that we do not offer anymore an adapted solution for travelers as we see rapid growth in our arrivals,” assured Hung. “We brought already the issue at the highest level of our government”.

As more Vietnamese airports look to receive international flights (Hue airport has recently been upgraded to an international status; Nha Trang and Dalat airports are in the stage of being soon approved) and more destinations open to foreigners, it is time for the Vietnamese administration to look at the realities of today tourism.