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Mar 31, 2024 / 20:31

Do longstay visas attract high-end, high-spending travelers?

As Vietnam positions itself as "the leading tourist attraction in Southeast Asia," a more open visa policy is expected to help achieve this goal.

 
 

The Government of Vietnam has taken drastic measures to attract more visitors. In recently-issued Directive 08/CT-TTg on the rapid, comprehensive, and sustainable development of tourism, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh called for consideration of piloting long-term (12-36 months) multiple-entry visas to attract high-end tourists and retired people with high spending power.

Under the Government's guidelines, the Ministry of Public Security is speeding up administrative reform and applying technology for foreigners' comfortable entry, stay, and travel in Vietnam. The ministry will be tasked with introducing online entry and exit procedures using facial recognition technologies (such as FaceID) and e-passports for the convenience of visitors. It should also consider piloting visa issuance at border checkpoints based on on-site approval for international tourists.

 

In addition, the scope of unilateral visa waivers will be extended, while a pilot of short-stay visa waivers (6-12 months) will be introduced for tourists from a number of large, high-spending source markets. A pilot project on multiple-entry visas for long-stay visitors  (12-36 months) is expected to attract high-value tourists and high-spending retirees from Europe, Northeast Asia, North America, India and some Middle Eastern countries.

Meanwhile, organizations and individuals involved in the provision of tourism services will be required to publish prices and comply with tax obligations.

All irregularities would result in the suspension of operations and revocation of licenses. Organizations and individuals who aid and abet violations and profiteer from tourist harassment, price gouging or false tourism advertising will face severe penalties.

At the same time, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant ministries and sectors, has been given the lead role in designing a scheme for the establishment of overseas tourism promotion offices. Another task is to promote the role of Vietnamese cultural centers in foreign countries in popularizing the image of Vietnamese landscapes, culture, people and tourism.

 

The Ministry should also be responsible for developing a plan to boost travel by sea and by road, as well as for developing appropriate policies for the promotion of railway tourism.

Vietnam currently exempts citizens of 25 countries from the visa requirement, 13 of which have been offered unilateral exemptions: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Belarus.

 

From 2023, Vietnam started issuing electronic visas to all countries and territories, extending validity from 30 to 90 days with multiple entries. For nationals of countries that are beneficiaries of Vietnam's unilateral visa waiver, the validity period has been extended from 15 to 45 days.  

The Hanoi Times spoke to leading tourism and hospitality experts about the government's efforts to boost tourism and attract more qualified international visitors to Vietnam.

 

“From my point of view, the visa waiver will help stimulate the growth of international tourism in Vietnam. I wish we had done it earlier because when the visa door opens, it will not immediately attract tourists. In this context, Thailand now offers free visas to 76 countries, Malaysia 156, Singapore 162, and the Philippines 157; Vietnam only 25. At present, the "narrow door" of Vietnam's visa policy affects foreign tourists who want to come to Vietnam and choose only short-term trips.

Proposing long-term visa options and piloting multiple-entry visas for periods ranging from 12 to 36 months is crucial to attract high-end tourist segments with significant spending potential from key markets such as Europe, Northeast Asia, North America, India, and select Middle Eastern countries. The implementation of the 45-day visa waiver policy for European markets has led to a notable increase in demand.

These are also the markets in which Meliá Hotel International has built its reputation. Visitors who stay longer often return after exploring Hanoi and other regions. While the higher price point may not consistently attract longer stays, a significant portion of our target clientele, including business and leisure travelers, opts for longer stays. Vietnam is a very reasonable place to retire, especially for those who love adventure, beautiful beaches, scenery, cuisine, history, and unique indigenous culture; therefore, an open and reasonable visa policy will greatly benefit tourism. 

 

Moreover, the most important thing in attracting tourists is the competitiveness and attractiveness of the destination, as no tourist decides to travel just because there is an open visa policy to a country.

Compared to other countries in the region that have done this and extended visa-free to many countries, Vietnam still lacks attractive tourism PR campaigns, attractive products, and services to encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more. In 2023, we undertook a complete renovation of two restaurants, Mosaico and Cham, the Garbo Bar, our wellness facilities, and all our ballrooms and function rooms, introducing new service packages combining accommodation and sightseeing, which made us proud and confident with our products to welcome all guests.

 

Let's consider some key markets with high-paying rates, like Switzerland, Belgium, Australia, UAE, and India (which already have direct flights). If we could prioritize those countries that already have direct flights, it would help boost tourists' access faster. At Meliá Hanoi, 50% of our top nationalities are visa-free for up to 45 days. In 2023, we witnessed a substantial uptick in stays from Spain, Japan, the UK, and Germany. We hope Australia, the UAE, the US, and a potential market such as India will soon join the list.

 

The visa facilitation policy was really what the tourism industry had been looking forward to, and tourism associations had proposed it more than once.

The fact that ASEAN countries compete to attract foreign tourists with preferential policies means that Vietnam needs to break through to catch up. Thailand, which has set a target of 40 million international visits, quickly and permanently waived visas for tourists from large markets such as China.

The government's decision to ease or waive visa restrictions for key markets such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, and especially Europe - whose tourists "travel a lot", "stay a long time" and can easily get to Vietnam thanks to direct flights from the UK, France, and Germany - is expected to have a positive impact. Recently, Thailand proposed an alliance between Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand, whereby a visa issued by one country would be valid in the others, allowing EU visitors to move freely between the five. This would be a major boost for European tourists, who often visit several countries in one trip. The five ASEAN allies have the convenience of road travel, so it's easier for tourists.

In addition to visas, there is a need to improve the quality of tourism human resources. Vietnam's current tourism staff are either scarce or lacking in skills. For example, there is a shortage of tour guides for French and Italian visitors. Therefore, travel companies should work with schools, staff trainers, and content developers while becoming customer-centric and using customer touchpoints to provide the best experiences.

 

The new visa policy introduced by the Vietnamese Prime Minister is a positive step towards attracting more tourists to Vietnam. The simplified and streamlined visa application process will help create a favorable image of Vietnam as a welcoming and accessible destination for travelers. By implementing an easy and efficient visa process, the government aims to enhance the overall experience of visitors and encourage them to choose Vietnam as their preferred destination.

 

Visa policy plays a crucial role in shaping a country's tourism landscape. While it's true that some countries in the region, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, offer visa-free access to a greater number of countries, it's important to consider the specific visa categories and the target audience they cater to.

For travelers (both groups and individuals), offering free visas or multiple entry options can significantly increase accessibility and attract a wider range of tourists. This approach gives travelers the flexibility to explore different regions within Vietnam and encourages them to stay longer, which has a positive impact on the tourism industry.

In the case of business travel and long-term residence, the provision of free visas and multiple-entry visas can be beneficial to individuals who wish to build long-term business relationships and contribute to the local economy. However, it's important to carefully consider the duration of these visas to ensure they are appropriate for their intended purpose and to avoid potential abuse.

Regarding work visas and residence permits, consideration could be given to extending the duration beyond the current 24-month limit to accommodate individuals who plan to stay in Vietnam for an extended period. This would provide greater stability and flexibility for those contributing to the local workforce and economy.

 

In addition to addressing visa issues, there are several other areas that Vietnamese tourism can focus on to attract more international visitors, particularly long-term and high-spending travelers: Infrastructure development: Continued investment in infrastructure, including transport networks, accommodation, and tourism facilities, is essential to provide a seamless and comfortable experience for visitors. 

Destination development: Diversifying and developing new tourism destinations alongside popular ones can attract long-term travelers seeking unique and authentic experiences. This includes promoting lesser-known regions and cultural attractions.

Luxury and high-end offerings: Developing high-quality tourism services, such as luxury accommodations, fine dining experiences, and premium entertainment options, can cater to the needs and preferences of high-spending travelers.

Sustainable tourism practices: Emphasizing environmentally friendly practices, community engagement, and responsible tourism initiatives can appeal to travelers who value ethical and sustainable travel experiences.

 

Effective marketing and promotion: Invest in targeted marketing campaigns, both domestically and internationally, to showcase the unique attractions and experiences Vietnam offers. The use of digital platforms and social media can reach a wider audience and effectively engage potential visitors.

By focusing on these factors, Vietnam can enhance its appeal to international visitors, including long-term and high-spending travelers, and position itself as a competitive and sought-after destination in the global tourism market.