Visa policy, missing Chinese blamed for slow recovery; India offers hope
Tourism in Vietnam is struggling to recover from the COVID-19 slowdown, although the country has already lifted pandemic-related travel restrictions.
In the first 10 months of this year, 2.4 million foreign tourists visited Vietnam, around 15% of the number before who entered the country before the pandemic struck, according to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office.
Visitors were sparse one weekend in late November in Ha Long Bay, a tourist destination in northern Vietnam designated by UNESCO as a natural World Heritage site. Sightseeing boats were moored at the dock.
“The number of visitors is about half the prepandemic level, and there are virtually no tourists from China. We cannot do business,” said a local tourism industry official.
Ha Long Bay is located in Quang Ninh province, which borders China. Some 2.9 million foreign tourists visited in 2019, around 60% of whom were Chinese, according to local media. These travelers are now missing due to China’s zero-COVID policy, which aims to stamp out the virus.
Vietnam temporarily closed its borders to tourists from abroad in late March 2020 and was as aggressive as China in trying to check the spread of COVID. But it began allowing foreign visitors back in mid-March, and eased entry requirements nearly to where they were before the COVID outbreak in May, ahead of its neighbors.
The number of inbound tourists to Vietnam in 2019, before COVID became widespread, rose 16% from the previous year to an all-time high of 18 million.
China and South Korea were the two largest sources of visitors, accounting for nearly 60% of the total. Roughly 5.8 million visitors, a little more than 30%, came from China, while 4.2 million, more than 20%, were from South Korea. Japan ranked third at 950,000. Around 640,000 visited from Russia, which has long-standing ties with Vietnam.
But the number of Chinese tourists plunged to 40,000 in January to October this year. Over the same period, visitors from Japan and Russia totaled only 70,000 and 10,000, respectively. Although 420,000 South Korean entered the country, that was still sharply lower than the previous year.
Many of Vietnam’s neighbors offer similar tropical vacation destinations, such as Thailand’s Phuket and Bali in Indonesia. Given its relative lack of tourism resources , Vietnam “is not necessarily the first country people choose to visit” despite its resumption of tourism for the first time in two years, a local travel agent said.
Vietnam’s visa policy is one reason for the slow recovery. It allows visa-free entry for travelers from about 25 countries. Visitors from European countries, as well as Japan and South Korea, can stay in Vietnam without a visa for up to 15 days.
But Thailand accepts visitors from more than 50 countries and lets them stay for up to 45 days. As European and American tourists tend to take longer trips, Vietnam appears to be losing out in the competition to make up for the loss of Chinese tourists.
Tourism accounts for around 10% of Vietnam’s gross domestic product and the government hopes to raise that share to 15% to 17% by 2030. But bringing back visitors from China is expected to take time.
One promising new market is India, whose 1.4 billion people will likely be a target of Vietnam’s tourism drive. Vietnam Airlines, the country’s flagship carrier, began offering service between Ho Chi Minh City and New Delhi in June, while VietJet Air, a leading Vietnamese discount airline, has announced plans to add 11 new Vietnam-India routes, starting in September, bringing the total to 17.
@ By Nikkei’s TOMOYA ONISHI. Read original article here