Vietnam travel firms fret over demotivating entry restrictions
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A group of foreign tourists welcome the new year in Hanoi, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Travel firms and tourism experts say it would be difficult to welcome back foreign tourists if the health ministry tightens quarantine and testing requirements.
They are worried about the Ministry of Health's response to a draft plan prepared by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on reopening international tourism reopening from March 15.
The Ministry of Health has recommended that foreign tourists remain in their place of accommodation for 72 hours after arriving in Vietnam; the first 24 hours being mandatory. They would be tested for Covid twice on the first and third day after arrival. In case the tourists want to travel to other places after one day, they would have to be tested three times in as many days.
Furthermore, all tourists would have to produce a negative PCR test result obtained within 72 hours of departure, instead of rapid antigen test results as proposed by the tourism ministry.
Unvaccinated children under 12 would not be allowed to leave their accommodation until they furnish negative Covid test results for seven consecutive days, the health ministry suggested.
Nguyen Tien Dat, general director of Hanoi-based tour operator AZA Travel, told VnExpress International that the health ministry's latest responses were "illogical and inconsistent" and go against the government's new strategy of living safely with the pandemic.
"With less than two weeks until March 15 when the country fully reopens inbound tourism, inconsistent regulations from the health ministry will put the tourism industry in a difficult situation," he said.
"The country has lifted all barriers for domestic tourists during the new normal period, so why are we not treating foreign and domestic tourists alike?" he wondered.
"Vietnam has been recording over 100,000 cases a day and the possibility that international visitors get Covid from Vietnamese people is much higher than their chances of infecting us," he added.
Dat said Asian tourists always travel for four to five days and "if we require them to stay in their accommodation facility for three days, they would never come to Vietnam."
Pham Ha, CEO of Lux Group, said he was disappointed with the health ministry's responses because Vietnam was already slow in reopening international tourism compared with regional countries and "we are losing out recovery opportunities with such inconsistent regulations..."
With these regulations, "it would be difficult to achieve success with inbound tourism reopening. I only see a bleak picture before my eyes," he said.
Other countries in Southeast Asia have reopened their borders to foreign tourists and lifted almost all travel restrictions while Vietnam's visa policy and entry requirements are yet to become clear and consistent, he added.
Ha said many European tourists from the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Turkey were eager to return to Vietnam in May but his company doesn't now know how to work with them because the policies remained unclear.
A representative of a HCMC-based tour operator who wished to remain unnamed said he was shocked with the health ministry's responses. The tourism industry does not have much time to prepare for reopening with such regulations, he said.
"No tourist will come to Vietnam to stay in hotels for three days. The tourism industry will not be able to take off again if such strict testing and quarantine requirements remain in place," he said.
Cao Tri Dung, chairman of the Da Nang Tourism Association, said the health ministry's recommendations pose fresh challenges for the tourism industry after being hardest hit by the pandemic for the past two years.
"If tourism barriers are not removed, the reopening would be impossible," Dung said, adding that the tourism industry was waiting for a final decision from Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh.
The government has announced that from March 15, Vietnam will fully reopen inbound tourism, with foreign tourists allowed to visit the country without booking tour packages.