But although the newfound freedom came nine months ago, recovering pre-pandemic health remains a difficult task for the industry.
The tourism industry began to see glimmers of hope late last year when the government allowed restricted entry to foreign tourists on package tours for the first time since Vietnam closed its borders in March 2020 .
However, only seven provinces Kien Giang, Khanh Hoa, Quang Ninh, Binh Dinh, Quang Nam and the two major cities of Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang have been allowed to welcome back tourists with pre-established conditions and constraints.
As the pandemic was gradually brought under control, the government began easing Covid requirements and lifting travel restrictions earlier this year.
On January 1, Vietnam officially resumed regular commercial flights after two years, before lifting all Covid restrictions on international flights to and from Vietnam on February 15.
As many countries around the world have begun reopening their borders to tourists and lifting travel restrictions, tourism experts have called on the government to take similar steps.
In mid-February, the government announced plans to reopen international tourism from March 15, but it took the relevant agencies almost a month to reach consensus on official entry regulations.
On March 15, Vietnam lifted quarantine requirements for visitors and resumed pre-pandemic visa waivers for citizens of 24 countries, including Japan, South Korea and some EU members.
At that time, foreign tourists were required to show a negative Covid test result before entry.
Two months later, the government agreed to also remove Covid testing requirements and health declarations for foreign participants.
The World Tourism Organization named Vietnam as the first Southeast Asian country to fully open up to international visitors without any Covid restrictions.
More than two years after the international tourism market froze, popular tourist spots across the country such as Hoi An and HCMC have seen positive signs with the return of their traditionally larger groups of foreign visitors.
Bui Vien in Ho Chi Minh and Ta Hien in Hanoi, the most popular backpacker streets in Vietnam, were once again bustling with the appearance of international tourists.
Bui Vien Pedestrian Street is filled with revelers in August 2022. Photo by Thanh Tung
Despite being lauded as the first regional country to fully reopen to international tourism, Vietnam has yet to meet its 2022 target.
Vietnam welcomed more than 2.95 million foreign arrivals in the first 11 months of this year, just over half of its annual target of five million.
South Korea has sent the most visitors to Vietnam since it reopened, followed by the United States
The number of foreign visitors this year is expected to drop by 77% compared to 2019, making Vietnam one of the slowest recovering tourism economies after the pandemic, according to a report released by leading travel data and analytics firm ForwardKeys. .
Since reopening, Vietnam has gained $16.5 billion in tourism revenue, Ha Van Sieu, deputy head of Vietnam’s National Tourism Administration, said at a meeting in November.
In 2019, the year before the pandemic started, Vietnam had received a record 18 million foreign visitors and earned a revenue of VND750 trillion ($30 billion).
While Vietnam still grapples with disappointing numbers, other Southeast Asian economies have met their target of foreign tourists.
Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, welcomed its 10 millionth foreign tourist of the year last week, hitting its target for the year.
In late August, Malaysia announced that it had already met its target of 4.5 million international visitors in 2022. The country was aiming for a new target of 9.2 million.
Indonesia and Singapore also soon achieved their goals.
The slow reopening of major tourism markets, visa issues and limited international flights are the biggest challenges to Vietnam’s tourism recovery, according to experts.
Tran Le Bao Chau, chairman of the Vietnam Small and Medium Tourism Business Forum (VTF), said that although Vietnam reopened international tourism in mid-March, some key tourism markets such as China, Japan and Russia, which accounted for more than half of the international arrivals from Vietnam before the pandemic – it still hadn’t fully reopened until the end of the third quarter.
Pham Ha, CEO of Lux Group, which specializes in arranging luxury cruises, said Vn Express International it would be difficult for the tourism industry to reach the five million target this year as there are only two weeks left.
“Many foreign tourists have canceled their trips to Vietnam because they could not get an entry visa for more than a month. Current visa policies are a major obstacle to the recovery of tourism in Vietnam,” Ha said.
In addition to granting visa-free travel to 24 tourist markets for stays of 15-30 days, Vietnam now only issues a one-month e-Visa to visitors from other countries.
Nguyen Ngoc Toan, director of Images Travel Company, which focuses on European visitors, said the industry is also facing the challenges of limited international flights and skyrocketing airfares, which have caused foreign tourists to consider choosing destinations closer to their homes to save money.
While the international tourism market has yet to show signs of a strong recovery, domestic tourism has become a ‘lifesaver’ for the industry with over 100 million local tourists traveling across the country so far this year, already exceeding 85 million before the pandemic started.