International cruise passengers will pay a US$5 visa fee each, instead of a staggering US$45, when they go ashore for a local tour, according to new measures approved last week by the Prime Minister.
The new measures come after the fresh immigration regulations, effective from January 1, provide complicated, time-consuming and costly immigration requirements for international tourists traveling to Vietnam by cruise ship who want to join overland tours when their ships call at a local port.
Travel firms that specialize in arranging local port visits and overland tours for passengers expressed concern over the new rules, saying the rules would discourage cruise travelers from buying overland tours as they were required to fill in a visa application form, pay US$45 for a visa and wait long for immigration officers to use multiple seals for stamping their passports.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung late last week told the Ministry of Public Security to work with relevant agencies to streamline visa procedures for passengers on board foreign cruise ships and the Ministry of Finance to lower the fee.
Accordingly, immigration officers would issue a landing slip for visitors upon arrival at a fee of US$5 if they want to go ashore for sightseeing.
Travel enterprises have hailed the PM’s swift action, saying it makes life easier for them and cruise tourists.
Cruise tourists will spend a much shorter time to get a landing slip, said Vu Duy Vu, deputy general director of Saigontourist Travel Service Company. Travel agencies can help complete procedures in advance for cruise tourists.
Before the Prime Minister’s move, a number of foreign cruise lines complained about the new time-consuming and costly immigration requirements as it takes many hours to have their passports stamped, leaving little time for their guests to go sightseeing overland.
At present, local tour operators expect relevant agencies to quickly issue documents guiding implementation of the PM’s measures to encourage cruise lines to bring their customers to the country.
The travel firms that provide services for international cruise lines must have taken a deep sigh of relief as Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has swiftly acted to pull them out of the tangle triggered by the new immigration regulations. Similarly, businesses in other sectors are also relieved now that the Ministry of Information and Communications has delayed the change of phone area codes.
The new immigration rules, if applied from early this year as scheduled, could drive away international cruise ships that carry thousands of passengers each for they required passengers to spend much more time and money on cumbersome immigration procedures. According to a travel agency, an international cruise firm threatened to consider suspending Vietnam port calls after its passengers were compelled to spend many hours on immigration procedures though they had just a day to go ashore for sightseeing. What’s more, they had to pay US$45 each for an individual visa, up from a mere US$5 for a group visa.
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam was quick to call a meeting with the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Culture-Sports-Tourism, border guards and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism to find ways to cope with a policy change that could seriously hurt the tourism sector at a time when it is working hard to attract more international visitors to the nation.
This meeting brought productive results as the Prime Minister told the relevant ministries and agencies to swiftly streamline immigration procedures, and bring down the visa fee to the old level (see story “Visa fee for cruise passengers back to US$5 per pax” also in this issue).
As for the telecom sector, businesses in 59 out of the country’s 63 cities and provinces would have spent a lot of time and money to reprint name cards for staff, signboards and others which contain their phone numbers if the Ministry of Information and Communications had proceeded with a controversial plan to change area codes from early March.
However, the ministry said it would draw up a road map to implement the plan in phases, instead of all at once (see story “Phone area code change postponed” in this issue as well).
These on-off policies give rise to unbearable social costs and jitters among businesses which now need stable and predictable State policies to go through a protracted economic malaise.