Travel and tourism is a growing contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment sector. With regards to GDP, in 2013, travel and tourism directly contributes 4.6% to the GDP (equivalent VND149,753 billion). It is forecast that this number will increase by 8.9% in 2014. Until 2024, direct contribution of travel and tourism is expected to grow by 6.3% per year, making contribution to GDP of 4.7%. This contribution is generated by industries such as travel agents, airlines, hotels and other services directly supported by tourism.

Travel and tourism also contributes a number of employees, when it supported 3.7% of the total jobs in 2013. In 2014, this number is expected to rise by 5.4% and by 1.5% per year (3.9% of total employment) in 2024.

Visa exemption, visa waiver and visa on arrival

The biggest impact on the number of travel and tourism flow has the entry visa policy. Visitors will switch to another country which has a more convenient entry policy to save time and cost. Thus, in order to ensure competitiveness, attract direct investment and international tourist flows, many countries are now under the process of adopting visa exemption policy (either unilaterally like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore or bilaterally). As a result, there has been an increasing number of visitors coming to these countries from the adoption of such policy.

From 01 July 2015, the visa-free travel policy will be applicable to citizen of five European countries including Germany, France, UK, Italy, and Spain, with a permitted 15-day stay for each entry. As such, Vietnam will waive visas for such citizens within one year from the Resolution’s effective date (i.e., from 01 July 2015 to the end of 30 June 2016).

This measure will hopefully enable Vietnam to attract international tourists, when the recent statistics on foreign tourist arrivals does not really appear satisfactory

Vietnam could also potentially increase tourism arrivals by 8% to 18% if it were to move to a program of visa on arrival, which should be different from the procedure which is taking place at the moment where people have to wait hours to get their paperwork done.

Transit and visa on arrival

It has been proved that the grant of extended transit visa’s on arrival has led to an increase of tourism stop overs and spending by transiting passengers. However, even when tourists have to transit in two different cities in Vietnam (i.e., arrival and departure cities are not the same), they are required to obtain a 30-day tourist visa to take a domestic flight which lasts for only two to three hours. Therefore, it is recommended that Vietnam provide 24-72 hour domestic transfer authority to allow for transfer between airports. It is further suggested that Vietnam creates a visa-free zone in tourist attracting places for major international/ regional flights to create a transit hub, thus attracting more tourists coming to Vietnam.

Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (“VTOS”) and its impact on hotel star rating

VTOS is considered as a great attempt by the Government in developing larger, better qualified and well trained employees in the tourism sector. This scheme, when being applied in locally managed 1-3 star hotels without international standard training programs, could significantly lead to positive results.

It should be noted that international branded hotels, despite not being considered as training institutions, conduct their own trainings to their employees based on their recognized brand standards. This makes them stand differentially from other competitors. Thus, it is necessary to figure out a solution to adopt VTOS for local hotels and at the same time recognize international standards by internationally branded hotels. It would be very wrong if we require compliance with VTOS by such international hotel chains and place financial penalties for their incompliance.

Destination marketing

In order to attract tourists, value and experience that each destination brings to visitors are of utmost importance. They are a result of unite cooperation among several public and private service providers, working together towards a common goal to ensure the viability and integrity of their destination. In that sense, destination management plays an important role. In Vietnam, destination management is largely the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Sport and Tourisms to report to the provincial People’s Committee. There is no regime for shared responsibility among government agencies. It is now time to start a strategic planning initiative to strengthen destination management at each place with tourist value.

In addition, regional tourism management should also be enhanced. Tourists normally do not visit a single place but make a tour throughout a region based on its available tourism products. Thus, destination management should not only require efforts at each destination but also collaboration within the region, whether in the form of public-private partnership or other forms, to develop joint regional products. These products will encourage visitors stay longer and plan their trip back to many different parts of Vietnam.

Current marketing efforts by the Government

Since its establishment in 2014, the Tourism Advisory Board (“TVB”) has worked closely with the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (“VNAT”) to develop a global marketing program for Vietnam. The aim of this program is to increase global awareness about Vietnam as a must-see destination in South East Asia, attract high-value visitors with long stays and high expenditure, and increase number of international visitors to Vietnam, etc. Till the end of 2015, TVB and VNAT will launch a campaign for online marketing. This is said to be an effective channel to attract tourism given the limited Government’s budget. Key target markets of this campaign are USA, Germany, France, UK, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.

However, budget for the global marketing campaign is very constrained. Up to now, the funding is less than US$1.5 million, which is too little compared with the contribution of Vietnam’s neighbouring countries to their national tourism promotion plan. Taking into account the fact that travel and tourism in total accounts for about 10% of the GDP, the Government is recommended to provide further support to the industry.