by Le Hung Vong
|Foreign tourists in Hoi An city.— Photo dulichvietnam
HCM CITY (VNS)--The HCM City Tourism Association continues to petition the Government to retain the visa waiver scheme for nationals of seven countries — and in fact to expand it — and not to hike visa fees.
It held a seminar on "The necessity to continue visa waver for visitors from major markets" in HCM City two weeks ago.
Participants at the seminar agreed that the visa exemption for single-entry visits of up to 15 days for Danish, Finnish, Japanese, Norwegian, Russian, South Korean, and Swedish nationals has fostered the development of the tourism industry in the last decade.
"It [scrapping the waiver] would have a serious impact on the development of the tourism industry," the association wrote to Viet Nam News.
The scheme is likely to be suspended after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently said it caused revenue losses of around US$50 million to the Government.
The ministry criticised the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism for failing to take advantage of the scheme to promote tourism.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Thanh Son was quoted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying that related authorities had not been effectively promoting "œViet Nam's strong tourism potential."
The marginal revenue from tourism has been too small compared to the loss of visa fees, he said further.
But analysts say the tourism industry has gained much from the waiver and scrapping it would have an adverse impact.
Nguyen Huu Tho, chairman of the association, said Viet Nam received 5.57 million visitors from the seven countries between 2004 and 2012, and they spent nearly $4.6 billion in the country.
Ending the scheme would come as a shock for tourists and tourism partners from those countries , he claimed.
Nguyen Van Tran, general director of HCM City-based tour operator APEX, said, admittedly without furnishing proof, that the visa waiver helped to increase the number of Japanese tourists booking tours with his company by 10 per cent annually to 76,000 last year.
Despite the economic downturn, Viet Nam's tourism industry has not been affected much in the past few years, with the number of international arrivals rising by 13.8 percent last year to nearly 6.85 million.
Some 1.45 million were from Russia, South Korea, and Japan - three countries whose nationals do not require a visa - and they spent an estimated $2 billion.
The tourism industry is worried about the fallout of scrapping the visa waiver especially since several countries in the region do not require nationals of many other countries to get visas.
In Singapore and Malaysia, citizens of around 150 countries and territories do not need visas.
Thailand allows free entry of people from 55 countries.
Nguyen Ngoc My, director of the HCM City-based Lua Viet Tours, said the plan to scrap the waiver is a "warning" to tourism authorities whom he blamed for the pass.
"It is the fault of the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism which should have been more active in making the best out of the policy," he said.
The association claims that the number of tourist arrivals from the seven countries could fall by 50 per cent if the visa exemption is scrapped.
In early April the association had sent proposals to the Government about visa issuance at land borders and continuing the visa waiver for tourists from the seven countries.
There has been a revival this year in foreign direct investment across the country though not in HCM City, figures from the Foreign Investment Department show.
The pledged figure amounts to nearly US$8.22 billion, an increase of 17 per cent from the same period last year, while actual disbursement was $3.75 billion, a year-on-year increase of 3.9 per cent.
By April 20 the Government had licensed 341 new foreign projects with a total investment of $4.83 billion and given approval to 121 existing companies to enlarge investment by $3.34 billion.
The investments have come mainly into 18 sectors, with manufacturing and processing accounting for a lion's share with $7.4 billion or 90 per cent of the total amount.
They were followed by the property sector, in which $307 million has been pledged, and trading and repair services.
Of the 37 countries and territories investing in the country, Japan remained top with over $3.6 billion or 44.2 per cent of total investment.
Singapore ranked second with $2.33 billion, and Russia followed with over $1.1 billion.
The expansion of investment in the Nghi Son Oil Refinery has helped Thanh Hoa Province top in terms of FDI with $2.8 billion.
It was followed by Thai Nguyen with over $2 billion and Binh Dinh with over $1 billion.
But HCM City, traditionally a leader in attracting FDI, attracted only $348 million, a decline of more than 37 per cent year-on-year, according to its Department of Planning and Investment.
The figure includes $140 million in 105 new projects and $207 million in existing ones.
The city was not even in the top five, with the list being rounded off by Binh Duong and Dong Nai.—VNS