Urgent need to revive international tourism

(SGI) - Since 15 March this year, Vietnam has set a course for full recovery of international tourism. However so far, the numbers of international visitors are still very modest. 
The ripened rice season in Ngoc Khe commune in Trung Khanh district, Cao Bang province, is popular among local and foreign tourists. (Photo: VNA)
The ripened rice season in Ngoc Khe commune in Trung Khanh district, Cao Bang province, is popular among local and foreign tourists. (Photo: VNA)

The reason is that there are still many bottlenecks that are causing hold-ups such as in entry visas, clarity in communications, shortage of human resources, and a lack of travel products, all of which need to be better organized to allow the market once again in Vietnam to flow with international tourists. Under the present conditions it also seems that the yearly goal of reaching five million international visitors will be extremely difficult to achieve.

Many bottlenecks

Mr. Vu The Binh, Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, has admitted very frankly that despite the many ambitious policies to attract international tourists to Vietnam post the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite many positive reviews from international organizations, by the end of July, Vietnam had only received 733,000 international visitors. This number included tourists and groups of experts and foreign workers, which covered only 15% of the year plan and equal to 8% of tourism compared to the same period in 2019. Although the number of international tourists is lower than that of domestic tourists, the former account for most of the revenue for the entire tourism industry. Therefore, the recovery of international tourism in Vietnam is an urgent requirement.

Hence in order to fulfill this urgent need, we must look at the bottlenecks stopping the flow of international visitors to Vietnam. One very important bottleneck is the current stringent visa policy. It is necessary to restore the free entry policy as was the case before the Covid-19 pandemic. The visa on entry and long term stay policy will certainly increase the length of stay for all visitors and create conditions for guests to decide to travel even at the last minute.

Currently, Vietnam is issuing visitor visas for a period of only 15 days which is most inconvenient for many travelers. If it is not possible for Vietnam to increase the visa period to 60 days like in Malaysia or 90 days like in Thailand, the number of days can at least be temporarily increased to 30 days, which may be more acceptable. Applying for a visiting visa for just a fortnight is inconvenient and stressful for almost all visitors.

Ms. Cao Tuyet Lan, Director of Viettours travel company said that when they want to apply for a visa for a foreign partner to come to a meeting, they have to register for a number in the Immigration Department, then wait a week before submitting an application. In this case the visa is for a business customer with a clear position, but it is even more difficult to get a visa for ordinary travel customers. Hence, it is not surprising at all why international visitors are shying away from travel plans for Vietnam.

Along with problems in issuing of visas, there is a serious shortage of human resources in the tourism industry, especially in tourist accommodation establishments. This is becoming an unprecedented difficult problem for travel businesses. Without sufficient human resources, especially qualified personnel, tourism cannot recover or develop, and finding suitable people is not an easy task.

Therefore, after the Covid-19 pandemic, a part-time and inexperienced workforce is becoming the main working force in many hotels, including high-end hotels, because most of the employees who quit their jobs during the pandemic do not want to return to the same jobs again. According to statistics, more than 90% of tourist accommodation establishments in the country have now returned to normal operations, with more than 34,000 establishments and 700,000 rooms, but the number of employees in tourist accommodation establishments is only about 300,000 people, many of which are not even fully trained to handle international tourists.

Along with issuing of visas which is still a major problem, and an acute shortage of human resources in both quantity and quality, Vietnam's tourism products have also not yet changed much to adapt to the new post-pandemic trends of tourists. Media promotion is also not very effective in supporting an increase in international tourism, even though travel businesses all believe that it is necessary to build a strong national communication strategy to introduce safe destinations to attract tourists to Vietnam.

New strategy necessary

Mr. Nguyen Van Hung, Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism listened to the thoughts and suggestions of travel businesses and associations and proposed a more convenient and open visa policy. Relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also held a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister to find ways to remove entry barriers for international visitors.

Mr. Hung emphasized that in the near future this problem will definitely be cleared up. However, businesses must be ready and well-prepared to welcome more tourists soon from increasing better quality human resources to offering a strong tourism infrastructure. If this does not happen, travel businesses will continue to flounder and only create a bad impression in the world of international tourism.

In order to allow Vietnam's main markets to recover soon, there are some suggestions for businesses. One suggestion is that travel businesses need to pay more attention to their niche market, instead of just paying attention to the traditional market as before the Covid-19 pandemic. Some niche markets that businesses can pay attention to are Mongolia, India, the Middle East, and even South American countries. Many businesses also agree with this suggestion and think that they should have their own products because profits from niche markets are quite substantial and cannot be overlooked.

Currently the Indian market is being evaluated as a possible potential market to grow Vietnam's tourism industry, but in order to attract this market we need to have tourism products related to their habits and culture, such as typical culinary culture of Halal foods or vegetarian cuisines. Only then will many Indian tourists feel comfortable about visiting Vietnam. To do this, we need to link local businesses with the cultures so that both sides have a better understanding of services necessary to make visitors comfortable when traveling in unfamiliar surroundings in Vietnam.

Besides traditional promotion and advertising, Vietnam needs to promote images on digital platforms. According to some statistics, up to 70% of customers search for information on digital platforms before traveling. Mr. Cao Tri Dung, Chairman of the Da Nang Tourism Association, said that international guests are now terming Bali as an old destination, but they cannot find a new destination to replace it. While many of Vietnam's tourism products are doing very well, the right information must also reach potential visitors. Therefore, we must build a large database for the tourism industry, and do digital marketing for the whole travel industry of Vietnam.

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