Vietnam is dropping visa requirements for tourists from five European countries to boost its slumping tourism industry.
A decision by prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung means visitors from the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain will no longer need a visa to visit the country for stays of up to 15 days, starting in July.
The decision was welcomed by tour operators.
“This is very good news,” Hoang Le Quyen of PeaceTours said from the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. “It will definitely help bring foreign tourists to Vietnam.”
But Ms Quyen said it would be better if the visa-free period was extended to 30 days, as Vietnam competes in tourism with regional countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, which offer the longer period for visitors from many countries.
Currently, Vietnam gives reciprocal visa exemptions to nine countries in the Association of South-east Asian Nations and unilaterally gives visa-free entrance to visitors from four Nordic countries, plus Russia, Belarus, Japan and South Korea.
The communist government is considering giving visa exemptions to more countries.
Last year, nearly eight million foreigners visited Vietnam, but arrivals dropped by nearly 13% in the first five months of this year to about 3.3 million, according to government figures.
Visitors from China saw a big drop of 30% after the parking of a giant oil rig near the Paracel islands last summer sparked widespread anti-China protests in Vietnam. The number of tourists from Russia declined by 16%, while arrivals from other European countries dropped by 7%.