HANOI, Jan 9 ― More and more countries are deciding to waive visa requirements to encourage travellers to choose them as destinations for their next getaway. For the authorities, it’s a way of boosting tourism, while for vacationers, it’s a way of saving time, money and hassle.
From the traditional pho soup to the floating markets of the Mekong Delta, the mountains of Sapa and the former imperial capital of Hue, Vietnam attracted some 12.6 million visitors from all over the world in 2023. According to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office, there were 3.4 times more than in 2022. Above all, the country far exceeded its target of welcoming at least eight million travellers. These hail from South Korea, accounting for 28 per cent of the total number of visitors, as well as from China, Taiwan and Japan.
This annual round-up follows a new policy that came into force on August 15. Vietnam extended its electronic visa system, making the process much simpler for visitors, and above all, providing authorization to enter the country for 90 days, compared with 30 previously. At the same time, the country extended its visa waiver to 13 countries, so that their nationals no longer need to apply for an entry document for a stay of up to 45 days, compared to 15 previously. These include Germany, South Korea, France, the UK, Italy and Spain. In the last quarter of 2023, the number of tourists from these countries increased, by 90 per cent for Spain, 68 per cent for Italy, 48.6 per cent for the UK and 52 per cent for France.
This kind of policy, which makes it easier for visitors to choose their next travel destination, is part of a long-standing approach. For many years, while its neighbours Thailand and Singapore did not require visas for incoming travellers, Vietnam remained stricter with its borders. In 2015, it decided to boost tourism by implementing a visa waiver policy. This cut costs for tourists, facilitated their arrival and enabled the country to better support all the economic activities from which they benefit. In 2015, 720,000 travellers took advantage of this policy. Two years later, the number had risen to 1.5 million. Each time, the visa waiver measure had an end date. And each time, the Vietnamese authorities decided to delay it.
Extending visa-free travel
Vietnam is far from being the only destination banking on such measures to attract more tourists. For countries that already have visa-waiver schemes in place, some are opting to extend the list of nationalities concerned. Turkey, for example, has decided to grant a 90-day visa-free stay to six new countries, including the USA and Canada. Other countries are extending the period of authorization, as in the case of Costa Rica, which since September 8 has allowed travellers to stay for six months, instead of 90 days. And this applies to travellers from many countries (58), including France, Canada and the USA. Of course, this doesn’t mean travellers don’t need a valid passport for the duration of their stay. Moreover, they must prove that they are in possession of a return ticket.
Visa exemption measures could be seen solely as a policy to stimulate economic growth in the countries concerned. But for travellers, these schemes are a good deal, especially for destinations where the cost of a visa can be as much as US$69 per person, for example, as in Kenya. Still, the country has announced that, from this January, international visitors will no longer need to apply for a visa to enter the country, whatever their nationality. Travellers will only need to complete an online travel authorisation, costing US$30. Angola, Gambia and Rwanda have already removed visa requirements. ― ETX Studio