Vietnamese Visa Procedures Fall Short in ASEAN

Monday, Dec 16, 2013 19:18

by Marcelo Giovannetti, Dezan Shira & Associates

Despite recently receiving aid package approval from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for its tourism industry, Vietnam will have to improve its visa procedures if it wishes to compete against other ASEAN countries in attracting tourists, urges a recent Vietnam Business Forum report.

Last week at the annual meeting on tourism development of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved the allocation of a US$100 million aid package to support the development of tourism infrastructure in the three Mekong River countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Greater Mekong Subregion, which receives some 40 million foreign tourists every year, will direct the aid toward projects that boost regional tourism, build seaports, implement water treatment in tourist areas and launch green tourism programs with the involvement of the local community. The overarching goal will be to strengthen efficiency in communication and cooperation with regional neighbors, particularly throughout the ASEAN block.

Towards an Ever Closer ASEAN

In 2011, ASEAN countries recorded around 77 million foreign visitor arrivals, with Malaysia seeing the highest, followed by Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

ASEAN aims to bring in even more tourists as it asserts itself as an economic community by 2015. Part of this strategy involves developing the tourism industry across the member nations, namely through a visa system modeled after that of Europe's Schengen Zone.

But political, technological, and security barriers will keep this Schengen-style visa from taking form within the next five years, according ASEAN's tourism strategic plan. One of the more serious barriers, though, lies within the vastly different visa procedures across the region.

Most systems, such as those of Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia, prove to be rather accommodating to foreign visitors, while those of Vietnam, for instance, arguably keep the tourism industry from reaching its full potential.

Complex and Inefficient Visa Procedures

The Vietnam Business Forum (VBF) claimed in a recent report that "no progress" has been made in establishing a transparent and effective visa-on-arrival system.

In contrast to most of the other airports in ASEAN countries, Vietnam's visa-on-arrival areas not only provide no clear information regarding the necessary procedures, forms, or fees, but also lack English-speaking staff and a proper queuing system.

These obstacles, among others, complicate the planning process for tourists. Currently, Vietnam is one of only two Southeast Asian nations that requires visitors from major tourist nations to undergo a screening process before traveling to the country and at $45 for a 30-day or 90-day visa.

As a result, Vietnam's annual tourist figures are short of stellar. Vietnam received a total of 4.2 million foreign tourists in the first 11 months of this year. Although a 12.1 percent jump from last year, these figures pale in comparison to Malaysia's 24 million and Thailand's 22 million foreign tourists per year. Not to mention, this past year, Vietnam's visitor return rate was just 5 percent, whereas Thailand's was at 50 percent.

The real threat is losing tourists to the other ASEAN countries with more accommodating tourism policies. "We are seeing significant lower growth in arrival numbers compared to our neighbors, including Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand," reads the VBF report, "all of whom have more efficient visa-on-arrival systems."

At a biannual meeting with the VBF last June, Vietnamese officials had promised an online on-arrival visa registration system, among other improvements to the system. They also revealed plans to create a single-visa policy that would allow tourists to travel across Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Yet, according to the VBF report, all these plans remain "in progress".

Yet, if it aspires to compete with its ASEAN neighbors, then, as the report suggests, Vietnam will need to extend visa exemptions or at least simplify the procedures for countries that "can potentially account for significant tourism revenue, such as the EU member states, the US, Canada, Australia, or Hong Kong."

This article was first published on Vietnam Briefing.

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