Vietnam has its eyes set on welcoming five million foreign tourists this year. So far, the country has received 2.35 million international visitors in the first 10 months of the year — less than half of its target.
January to October data shows an 18.8% increase in foreign arrivals compared to the same period in 2021. However, it’s still way below pre-pandemic levels, when Vietnam had 14.49 million visitors in the first ten months of 2019.
Of the 2.35 million visitors, up to 88.8% traveled to Vietnam by air, up 24.9 times against the same period last year, the General Statistics Office reported. More than 1.65 million travelers were from Asia, led by South Koreans. European and American travelers ranked the second and third-largest source of international arrivals.
Vietnam’s tourism rebound was foreseen to be one of the strongest in Southeast Asia. After the country came out of a hard lockdown in 2021, the government made it a priority to quickly reopen the borders and resume travel and trade. From the reopening in March, Vietnam continued to amend entry restrictions. By June, all COVID-19 entry requirements were dropped.
While foreign tourists are eager to travel to the Southeast Asian country, confusing and stiff visa policies have become a major deterring factor. The latest data from the Immigration Department show that Vietnam has issued only 459,000 e-visas since March.
Vietnam grants visa exemptions to 24 countries, mostly Asian and European nations, for stays of 14-30 days. But it only gives a one-month single-entry visa for other markets. Applying for an e-visa is convenient and cheap, but many complained of delayed approval.
Because of the current high demand, e-visa applications take weeks to get approved. Some even have to cancel their trips entirely because the whole process took longer than expected. Travel agencies have reported postponement or cancellation of bookings because of visa issues.
The Ministry of Public Security and other relevant departments have been instructed to streamline visa procedures and put new strategies in place. E-visa applications will also be expanded to more countries.
Absence of Chinese tourists
Chinese tourists, who ranked first in outbound tourism expenditure at $277 billion pre-pandemic, remain relatively absent anywhere, including in Vietnam, which it shares land borders with.
Among Asian countries, Hong Kong, Macau, and Cambodia had the highest tourist inflows from China in 2019. Vietnam got more than 30% share of the total arrivals in 2019, per the statistics released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
China’s ban on outbound vacation package sales remains in place, and the issuance of new passports has yet to resume. Additionally, no Chinese traveler would want to spend a lengthy quarantine period, complete a mountain of paperwork, and undergo multiple COVID-19 tests upon returning from a supposedly relaxing vacation.
“The stringent return quarantine measures that are likely throughout most of 2022 is a strong deterrent for outbound Chinese tourists, which will slow tourism recovery in markets such as Cambodia and Vietnam,” the report added.
China is determined to keep its dynamic zero-COVID policy in place for the time being, describing it as the “best choice” to keep the mortality rate low.
In the absence of Chinese tourists, Vietnam has been making extensive efforts to lure in other big-spending tourism markets, like the US and Europe, during the peak period (which is in the latter months of the year, instead of the summer peak which is mainly preferred by domestic tourists) until April 2023.