Over the past decade, Vietnam has been slowly but surely opening up to international visitors. Visa-free travel began with only a handful of countries, namely Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Vietnam’s inclusion in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which allows 30-day visa-free travel within much of the economic zone, was also an important step for Vietnam tourism.

Recently, Vietnam has continued to make steps in the right direction in terms of increased visa-free travel for foreign visitors. In June 2015, the Vietnamese government passed legislation to make tourist visas unnecessary for five European countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.

Visitors from these countries rejoiced, since they could now visit Vietnam without worrying about the bothersome visa application process. And even though the visit cannot exceed 15 days, the visa exemption was seen as the next step in breaking down the bureaucratic boundaries of a visit to Vietnam.

Vietnamese Visa (Photo Credit: goviettravel.com)

Earlier this month, the newly-elected President Tran Dai Quang proposed a visa extension for American visitors to Vietnam as well. On 9th April, the National Assembly voted to approve the proposal. Starting later this year, instead of the current three-month, single entry, non-extendable visa, American tourists can obtain a 1-year, multiple entry visa to Vietnam.

“The new reciprocity arrangement, which is expected to enter into force in late May or early June, will benefit American and Vietnamese tourists and business travelers, generating new opportunities for trade, investment and tourism,” stated the Embassy of the United States of America in Hanoi in their press release.

It is clear that the visa extension and exemption legislation will have a positive impact on Vietnam tourism’s international inbound. Without having to deal with visa paperwork, application fees and deadlines, international tourists can now put more pre-trip focus on planning their holiday.

According to Mr. Luu Duc Ke, Director of Hanoi Tourism Company, European and American visitors are good potential customers as they have great spending power with the euro and dollar exchange rates. With suitable tours to new destinations, the economy should benefit significantly from an increased number of tourists.

Visa-free travel is still preferable in order to boost the number of American tourists to Vietnam.

With all the above considered, is visa exemption and extension really a master key to boost Vietnamese tourism?

It depends.

For European visitors, they can only visit Vietnam visa-free for up to 15 days, which is not enough time to see even the tourist hotspots of the whole of the country. As stated above, European visitors have great spending power, and it is not unusual for them to holiday for weeks or even months at a time.

But with a visa-free limit of just two weeks in Vietnam, European visitors may be tempted to limit their time in the country, choosing instead to spend more time in countries like Malaysia and Thailand. Furthermore, as there are restrictions on entering and reentering Vietnam on the 15-day visa exemption system, European visitors to Southeast Asia will opt to fly in and out of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur rather than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

(Photo Credit: goviettravel.com)

For American visitors, a 1-year, multiple-entry visa to Vietnam is a great boost from the current 3-month visa. But the move is clearly orientated towards business travelers, as most American tourists will be coming to Vietnam for a month at the most and are unlikely to return again within a year. Visa-free travel is still preferable in order to boost the number of American tourists to Vietnam.

It is likely that visa-free travel will be granted for other nationalities, too. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Khanh, Deputy Chairwoman of the Ho Chi Minh City Travel Association, insists that the government should add Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and other countries to the visa waiver program.

“We have submitted a proposal, so the issue is now in the hands of the ministries (Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Public Security, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs). It would be great if we can scrap visas for as many countries as possible, but the consideration and approval of this proposition entail many factors,” Mr. Nguyen Van Tuan, Head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, admitted to Tuoi Tre Newspaper.

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