As the economic crisis takes its toll on tourism in Indochina, both Cambodia and Vietnam are introducing new measures aimed to boost tourist arrivals.
Cambodia currently is seeing a sharp contraction in tourist arrivals to Siem Reap and the famous temples of Angkor Wat. In 2008, total arrivals to the city declined by 5.5 percent including a 12.2 percent decline in air arrivals. Foreign tourist arrivals to Cambodia dropped again by 3.4 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period of 2008 according to the Ministry of Tourism statistics.
Cambodia is now reacting by introducing more flexibility for visitors to the fabled Angkor Wat temples. Since July 1st, the 3-day entry pass to the Angkor Heritage Area will be valid on any 3 days within a calendar week instead of 3 consecutive days. Even better, the 7-day entry pass has now validity for an entire month instead of the week of issue. The strict rule of using the pass only in consecutive days was a main reason of complaint from both tour operators to the destinations and visitors.
Cambodian authorities are also mulling over the idea of opening some of the temples at night to draw more visitors to the World Heritage site.
In Vietnam, authorities are doing back-pedal. Last January, eTN reported that Sport and Tourism Deputy Minister Tran Chien Thing did not see the possibility of granting visa on arrivals at international border crossings for travelers, while estimating that it would put the safety and security of the country at stake.
The economic crisis seems to make things now possible. After a decline of 10 percent in international tourist arrivals from August to December 2008, the declining trend is accelerating in 2009. From January to April, total international tourist arrivals reached only 1.297 million, down by 17.8 percent compared to the same period of 2008. According to market research company CB Richard Ellis Vietnam (CBRE), room occupancy at five-star hotels in Ho Chi Minh City in the first quarter plunged 31.5 percent year-on-year while room rates falling about 6.6 percent. Hanoi does slightly better.
The Vietnamese government has then officially announced that Vietnam will "soon" start to provide visa-on-arrivals at international airports and border crossing points for all international travelers. Vu The Binh, head of the travel department of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), officially gave the information to reporters. The implementation will take a few months to give time for the Customs Department to adapt its information technology system to accommodate the new system. VNAT and other concerned departments will then look at the new visa procedures.
In another effort to attract more travelers, Vietnam is also waiving visa fees for tourists buying a package tour under the "Impressive Vietnam" promotional program. Available until September 30, "Impressive Vietnam" package programs are sold by over 90 tour operators, all listed under a special website. If successful, the program could be prolonged until the end of the year. With visa available on arrivals, Vietnam is likely to enter into a new tourism era. At last!