On 15-march 2022, Vietnam announced its opening to travel visa. Why 3-month later, travel agencies are still waiting for travelers to return to 18 Mio pre-Covid?
After 2 years of complete lockdown of Vietnam to visitors, from march 2020 to march 2022, the long wait was supposed to end. What’s happening that travelers are still not here yet? When will the pre-Covid level of 1.5Mio visitors/month be back?
The long wait for Vietnam to reopen was officially ended on the 15-march 2022 announcement by Vietnam authorities.
15-march 2022: On that day, just 13 countries: “Citizens from Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the UK will be allowed to visit Vietnam for up to 15 days without visa regardless of passport type and entry purpose”.
1-april 2022: As the pressure went on, then 1-april came a 2nd announcement: An electronic visa (E-visa) is one of visa types issued to foreigners by the Vietnamese Immigration Department via electronic system. Vietnam E-visa is valid for a maximum of 30 days, single entry. It will be processed in 3 working days. Details on 80 countries and the Procedure for Vietnam e-Visa and fee
12-23 May 2022: Vietnam organizes the SEA games postponed of 1-year, due to Covid crisis.
Meanwhile since 15-march the pressure mounts:
Until 2019, Vietnam immigration and visas were in the mindset of the country catching up with neighboring ASEAN countries. In 2019, with 18 Mio visitors Vietnam trails Thailand 40 Mio and tourism business brings US$32Bn and doubles to Thailand US$64Bn.
The opening strategy gave visa agencies, companies, provincial cities authorities a laissez-faire blind eye to visitors entries. Obviously the visa ‘stamp holders’ were rewarded by the proliferation of ‘stamp facilitators’ a split of $50 or so ie. the differential between US$25 into state coffers and up to US$75 collected by the agent facilitator. All was fine until Covid unveiled and boosted the number of foreign visitors living and working on ‘90-day visa runs’ in all types of businesses, as the national security congress explained on 31-mar-2022
Covid19 pandemics doubled the pain for Immigration Police discovering abusive issuance and mis-use of working/investor visa during 2020 & 2021, the 2-years of Covid :
To the great disappointment of future visitors, without planning, without procedure, unilateral decisions by immigration authorities were enforced. All computerized and centralized from now ie. past visa history for each returning visitors (since 2015 database input) are analyzed to decide on visa issuance or denials.
On 1-april, with immediate effect, and still in force as I write, for visitors to Vietnam:
That is definitely not what business people or tourist calls ‘Vietnam re-opening 2022’
Of course, not renewing visas for various people used to visa-runs or other family or working arrangements since the early 2003 when private enterprise law was enacted create ‘turbulence’.
But also opening back post-Covid involves new considerations for a global country:
Only 80 countries out of 195 are allowed in for tourism, visiting with e-visa. A world-class aspiring country like Vietnam should communicate on perspective and planning, if not explanations at least communication on what lies ahead. Standing and reputation is of importance to Vietnam who still need trading and investment to develop.
Not letting travel tour operators, visa agents, cities/provinces/trade authorities and Vietnamese embassies worldwide process visas when it is their main purpose is not going to be a smooth ride. Not talking about cutting into the Visa income generator to e-visa centralized in Hanoi.
Now that SEA games have ended on a high note, the organization and gold medals. It is a good time to continue on a winning streak.
Looking at the way Vietnam managed the Covid crisis in 2020 and 2021, pre and post Delta/Omicron variants, one may conclude that Vietnam is good at managing crise therefore simple events like re-opening the country to visitors ‘after 2-years of préparation during forced complete lockdown’. But one must nor mistake between Planning and Execution skills; Vietnam is only skilled at the latter as the military deployment showed on end-aug-2022 to contain the Covid delta variant
After 30 years as a resident, there are at least 3 main reasons to explain Vietnamese authorities weakness on planning and organization:
Except in times of extreme life threatening crises -like wars, famine or Covid- that Vietnamese combine Planning & Execution.
As mentioned above, the government recruits its leaders based on political total alignment. Cutting itself off knowledgeable innovators. Those individuals end-up in the private sector, sometimes becoming hugely successful.
The massive government worker base follows the same path. Their power drips down from the central government in the form of a license and a stamp they can use, unfortunately without the knowledge of underlying wealth creating understanding and empathy to the private sector employees.
Political power and economical powers are very distinct in terms of rationale and functioning.
There have always been 2 currents; the Vietnam National and the Private interest: here open the economy for people to make a living again and control the entry of so many illegal visitors during decades of laissez-faire.
Until a ‘new sheriff in town’ rules the ‘stamp holders’ and stops forcefully (no jokes with jail terms as an example) the business of the ‘stamp facilitators’. New procedures are sent from central Hanoi like banning embassies to issue visas and e-visa online by-passing all intermediaries: $25 cost and 3-day issuance.
The difference between the market price, let’s say $50, shared by the ‘stamp facilitator’ up above the food chain to the ‘stamp holder’ is gone. Prepare for all kinds of difficulties as the facilitators are gone with the source of ‘coffee-money’. And surely a kind of reversal of the current decisions leading to this course of history. We already see a flurry of complaints on the 3-day e-visa issuance, that is supposed to be computerized?
To be continued…
Luck and prayers are not a travel and business strategy!
Whilst the official 15-march opening of Vietnam to visitors, does not show clear signs of increased visitors. Businesses and the people need to return to pre-Covid very badly after 2-years of hibernation and for some starvation.
Pressure mounts and rushed decisions are taken to compensate with lack of planning skills and forward thinking for workable innovative solutions.
For example, on 16-may-2022, all Vietnam entry restrictions were lifted -except perhaps the Covid travel insurance for minimum $10,000 of costs-. Even the vaccination status has been omitted! In view of limited Covid ICU hospital rooms -a few hundred in capital cities and none in provincial towns-, let’s cross finger that nothing happens to visitors during their stay that would lead to bad worldwide advertising on healthcare and safe traveling in Vietnam.
The forces of economy and the Vietnamese legendary opportunist sense should prevail. The winds of opening and new development for Vietnam are blowing strong: the perfect storm is forming due to many economic and geopolitical reasons.
The trend for re-opening will be strong, maybe accompanied by structural changes. But surely for the time being trial and errors immigration and travel unpredictable decisions lookalike stop & go and reverse at times. All of which long-timers observers are used to. In the words of late French president: “it is urgent not to hurry”
When talking about structural changes, the 2 most obvious and urgent should be:
E-visa should be in for some time as a start for transparency and signaling the stamp holde and its helpers that it is time to think about ‘business pivoting’. But more importantly, to the world that Vietnam continues its integration to the world with transparency and reliability as a global partner.
As I write, complaints are mounting on the 3-working-day issuance lead time, late deliveries, 25$ paid but denied visa, photo uploads and payment check-out issues.
Count on some stop-go-reverse to fight the trend trying to dry-out the coffee-money distribution.
Vietnam with a 100 Mio population, has a view to continuous growth out of poverty, to level up with Asean neighboring countries, heer is the ranking 2020: