In a bid to revive its tourism industry, Vietnam dropped visa requirements for tourists from five European countries. Travelers from Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain will not require a visa to visit the Southeast Asian country from July 1 for trips up to 15 days, the Associated Press reported Thursday, citing a Vietnamese government website.
Vietnam currently provides a reciprocal exemption on visas for nine countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It also previously waived off visa requirement for visitors from four Nordic countries, and Russia, Belarus, Japan and South Korea. The country's tourism has taken a hit as arrivals dropped by nearly 13 percent in the first five months of 2015, the AP reported. While 8 million visitors came to Vietnam last year, this year only 3.3 million visitors have traveled to the country so far.
"The decision will delight the country's tourism sector and visitors from these countries," Nguyen Van Tuan, director of tourism administration, said, Viet Nam News, a local newspaper, reported Thursday.
The latest move was lauded by tour operators. Hoang Le Quyen of PeaceTours in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, said he was excited that such an allowance was made to reinvigorate the tourism industry.
"This is very good news," Hoang told the AP, adding: "It will definitely help bring foreign tourists to Vietnam."
However, he added that it would be better if the visa-free period could be extended to 30 days as Vietnam faces stiff competition from other regional countries like Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, which offer longer stays without visa.
Vietnam is also finding it difficult to attract Chinese travelers, whose numbers fell about 30 percent following the trouble between the two countries in the Paracel Islands in South China Sea. Last year, China parked an oil rig near the islands, which led to widespread protests in Vietnam against China. Vietnam is also reportedly offering civilian cruises for patriotic citizens to help them take a six-day tour of two reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands, known to Vietnamese as Truong Sa, a report said earlier this month.
Arrivals from Russia reduced by 16 percent while the number of tourists from other European countries declined by 7 percent.