Vietnam’s decision to grant visa exemptions to five European countries has caused concern among Cambodia’s tourism sector, as certain stakeholders worry that it could affect tourist arrivals in the Kingdom.
According to the Vietnam News agency, citizens from the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy will be granted visa exemptions for visits lasting no longer than 15 days, and the changes will be in effect from July 1 this year until June 30, 2016.
“The hassle of getting a visa is seriously hampering Vietnam in attracting tourists,” Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the National Administration of Tourism, said in an interview to Bloomberg. “The application process is easier, faster and more convenient in other countries in the region.”
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the private sector-government working group on tourism, said the visa exemptions will have an impact on Cambodia’s tourism industry, and that all stakeholders, especially the government, will need to provide a similar scheme to European tourists.
“This is the right time for our government to be flexible, as the private sector has raised the issue of discounts on visa fees or exemptions [in the past],” he said.
Lav Heng, director of Cambodian tour operator VLK Royal, echoed the same concerns, adding that the government needed to help improve domestic tourism services.
“We don’t have a lot of direct flights so this will affect us a lot. It is important is to ensure that we provide better services and accommodation for tourists,” Heng said.
He said the country’s two main international border gates – Poipet in Banteay Meanchey and Bavet in Svay Rieng province – are currently disorganised and need to be improved.
“If you look at our two main international border gates, our local authorities don’t facilitate tourists, by asking for money and it is too messy – how can we attract them to visit us?” he said.
According to Heng, tourist arrivals to Vietnam have dropped 30 to 40 per cent during the low season.
Cambodia, currently, has visa exemptions only for tourists from ASEAN member states.
The move coincides with Vietnam’s decision to setup a $100 million tourism fund that will look to stem the decline in tourist arrivals, as reported by Bloomberg. About 3.3 million tourists visited Vietnam in May, a 13 per cent drop from the same period last year.
Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon could not be reached for comment yesterday.