Thanh Nien News, 6 July 2015. Vietnam anxiously wants to bring quick end to tourism crisis, but can it?, by An Dien.

Just last month, Australian tourists were told that they could enjoy visa-free status from 1 July 2016. Now it seems that that the Prime Minister would like that decision reviewed as Vietnam suffers its 13th consecutive month of declining tourist numbers. But, many are arguing that more generally, there is a deeper problem in the tourism sector than just visa fees.

An edited extract of the original article appears below.

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Visa waiver is not a panacea as insecurity, ‘growth-first’ attitude have resulted in throes of festering problems.

Never before have Vietnam’s top leadership stooped down like this to worry about the sagging tourism industry.

After signing off on visa waivers for five more European countries — France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK — last month, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has continued to press ahead with the visa exemption.

In a directive dated July 2, Dung asked that ministries of finance, national defense, and public security consider axing tourist visa requirements for even more nationalities and continue streamlining visa procedures that have been decried as ineffective.

The document did not dwell on the specific nationalities. But government agencies and industry insiders have proposed that Dung add four more countries — India, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — to the list.

The push for visa waivers comes at a time when the tourism crisis has continued to bedevil Vietnam. The number of international arrivals has fallen for 13 months in a row in June, down 8.2 percent from May, according to the General Statistics Office. Around 3.8 million foreigners visited the country in the first half, a 11.3 percent drop from the same period last year…

Experts say although the visa exemption is a right move to pull in tourists, the policy alone is not enough to resuscitate the ailing tourism sector…

In what appeared to be a rare move, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has admitted that unsafe traffic, dirty food and environment, thieves, beggars, and overcharging by vendors have been a drag on the tourism industry…

“Vietnam is not protecting its tourism resources, nor is it optimizing their use,” Doling (a British author) said.

“Everywhere we see the same story being reported in the press of beaches and other scenic areas strewn with rubbish or marred by failed developments, natural wonders threatened by commercialization and inappropriate construction.”

Grow first, preserve later

Recently, a cable car project to Son Doong, the world’s largest cave in the north-central province of Quang Binh, raised many eyebrows over its raison d’être. It was only until last month that the government put the infamous project on the back burner, at least until 2030, after it faced fierce opposition from civil society, conversation groups and tourists…

(Critics) point the fingers to the bandwagon of rushing to develop massive infrastructure projects at the expense of natural wonders, a trend which has apparently intensified in a country where local leaders are judged only by short-term performance…

“Vietnam seems to have this deep insecurity that its natural beauty and scenic landscapes are not enough — they must be ‘improved’ with cable cars, casinos, or loud karaoke,” said Pamela McElwee, an assistant professor of human ecology at Rutgers University who has extensively researched Vietnam’s protected areas…

But “worst of all is the systematic destruction of the country’s unique built heritage, the very thing which makes Vietnam’s towns and cities interesting to many foreign visitors,” Doling, the British historian, said.

“The problem is that in the absence of any kind of inventory of historic buildings or protection, this built heritage – which should be at the center of any tourism development initiative – is being systematically destroyed.”…

 

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