Vietnam has set a target of welcoming 20 million foreign visitors in 2020 and develop tourism into a key economic sector, and the association said that one way of achieving that goal is to provide visa waivers for important markets, Vietnam News Agency reported.
The agency said that Vietnam should extend visa waivers for tourists from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and Belarus, and extend the policy to markets with large numbers of arrivals such as Australia, Canada and India, as well as Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, and former Soviet states Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Vietnam has been offering single-entry visa exemptions to citizens from Western European countries since mid-2015. Arrivals from the markets increased between 13-32% this year.
The relaxed visa policy, which allows visitors to stay for up to 15 days in Vietnam, will expire at the end of this June.
Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the association, said visa exemptions are a global trend and Vietnam’s tourism competitors in the region are “very open” with their policies.
The country currently offers visa waivers to visitors from only 22 countries including ASEAN co-members. Indonesia, one of the world’s most liberalized countries for visas, grants visa-free travel to 169 countries. Singapore allows 158 nationalities to enter visa-free, while the figure for Malaysia is 155 and Thailand 61.
Binh said the e-visas introduced last February will not be able to replace visa exemptions.
He also said the government should extend its visa waivers by five years instead of reviewing them annually.
Travel firms said they cannot use the visa exemptions for promotional campaigns as the policy could change after a year.
This short-term policy only works for individual tourists while businesses that offer large tours need a more stable policy, they said.
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism and the Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Association have been making similar pleas about extending visa exemptions but no promises have been made.