Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers about the new Law on Entry, Exit, Transit and Residence of Foreigners, which increases visa fees for people who travel to the country by sea from US$5 to $45. In addition, each passenger will be required to obtain a separate visa. Previously, only one permit was needed for everyone on board.
Following media reports on the increase, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued a directive requesting all cruise travelers be charged the original rate, $5, until amendments on the law could be issued.
Here are some comments from our readers on the issue.
Herby Neubacher, German, Nha Trang
Cruise guests are an especially vulnerable crowd. They are not like the "normal tourists" who book 14 days in Viet Nam – they step off the boat, look around, get an impression and go on with their cruise often to another place or even another Asian destination often competing with Viet Nam for tourists.
In my opinion, raising visa costs is just a convenient way of siphoning guests off and bargaining on their interest in a country that they often enter and experience the first time.
And instead of that, they could be made ambassadors for Vietnamese friendliness and hospitality so easily – then they might even fall in love with this country, like I did some 15 years ago, and come back for a longer trip. And on top of that, they might tell everybody they know about how welcome they felt.
The same cuts the other way: They might be talking about being ripped off in Viet Nam even before the landing plank went down, and they might warn all their friends and relatives about visiting a country where you have to pay dearly just to step off a boat. And they will never come back, for sure.
In any case, one fact is clear – cruise guests always bring good business to everyone in all the places they land. We experience this every day here in my hometown of Nha Trang. It has a lot of cruise business going on. This country has the chance to become one of the most reputable destinations in Asia – there are loads of things to see and experience here in Viet Nam.
Hardly a country has more versatility in tourist sites, beautiful landscapes, sea views and heartwarming hospitality than Viet Nam. Too many people are dependent on tourism here in Viet Nam.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
Instead of charging for visas, how about an experimental program with free land tour options (to a historical village or plant/factory), a free lunch (promoting local produce that is also prepackaged and ready to buy) and a free photo in traditional dress (also ready-made Western-sized & ready to sell). Ask them to submit a detailed feedback survey. If these tourists only represent 5 per cent of travellers, why antagonize them? Why not take advantage?
Hong Kong and Malaysia (former British colonies) gave me free 90 day passes when I visited them. Thailand is great fun and free for 30 days. Extension is costly and inconvenient, so I don't stay longer.
Viet Nam will soon need to compete with Myanmar, which is opening up. There are plenty of beaches (and boats) in Malaysia and Indonesia. Don't pick my pockets. Don't make me choose.
John Haywood, British, Ha Noi
It shouldn't matter what form of transport you use to get to Viet Nam. If you walk over the border, fly or arrive in a boat, the cost should be exactly the same and each person should need one.
I know they have to draft in extra help in Ha Long Bay to process everyone (which took several hours instead of a few minutes) because each individual person now has to have a visa (which is really how it should have been before) but the suggested cost seems very expensive. Why does a tourist on a boat cruise need to pay $45 when a 1 month visa is only $10?
I really think that whenever a country changes it immigration or visa rules, they need to take some time to think things thoroughly and properly and arrange training for officials well before any changes take place.
Tran Thu Trang, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
It's good news that after media reports on the increased visa for cruise travelers, the Government has issued a directive to order the visa fee back to the normal rate.
While we certainly hope that this future amendment won't hike the visa cost to $45 again, we need to rethink our tourism strategy. Before anything is set, the government should solicit opinions from all relevant stakeholders.
Will the money from increased visa fees be spent on tourism promotion and translated into improved services? It should be noted that tourists who come on cruises are quite high-class travellers, and they expect the services and the experiences to be "worth the money." There are many destinations competing for cruise tourism in the region, and Asia and Viet Nam should take advantage of its coastline with its stunning beaches. More complex paperwork will turn off many people.
One should take note that ships often stop in several destinations, and they could easily pass by Viet Nam if there are not welcome signs and policies. Tourism promotion is critical to revive our economy and this does not fall in that line.
Do Thuy Linh, Vietnamese, HCM City
Raising it to $45 without getting opinions from those involved in the sector is a huge waste of time. I'm not sure why that was even included in the law.
Viet Nam has an ideal coastline for promoting tourism, and yet sea travelers only account for 5 per cent of all international arrivals. We need to not just simplify visa requirements, but also improve services and the friendliness of all people working at ports or immigration checkpoints. They give visitors their first impression about this country. We want to become a friendly destination for all visitors.
I also believe working closely in tourism promotion with other ASEAN nations is a great way to promote our country's potential for cruise travelers and other visitors. — VNS