Vietnam waives visas for five European countries to spur tourism

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam on Friday said it will waive visas for travellers from five more European countries including Britain and France as authorities move to boost the country's declining tourism industry.

Travellers from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain will no longer need a visa to enter the communist nation from July 1 for stays of up to 15 days, according to a statement posted on the government's official website.

The visa waiver will apply to tourists and those travelling for business, said the statement signed off by the Vietnamese premier Thursday, in a scheme in place for one year after which it may be extended.

According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, international arrivals to the country in May were down by 14.4 per cent compared to the same month last year.

The declining visitor numbers have triggered increasing concern in the Southeast Asian nation.

Last week Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam told state media foreigners were "scared" of travelling to the country and questioned why the scenic nation was lagging behind those such as Thailand in attracting tourists.

"When they see on the streets sellers preparing food with their bare hands, no plastic gloves, they are scared," he claimed, also citing begging and pickpocketing as factors deterring tourists.

Vietnam currently allows tourists to enter visa-free from Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Belarus, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

By comparison, Thailand allows tourists from dozens of countries to enter without a visa for up to 30 days.

According to government figures in the first five months of the year only 3.2 million people visited Vietnam, a drop of 12.6 per cent against the same period last year.