Vietnam travel bubble with Japan collapses as leaders avoid strict rules



HANOI – The Japan-Vietnam travel bubble for short-term business stays has made little headway five months after its launch, as potential visitors to Japan are put off by the particularly strict protocols in this Asian country from the South East.

The so-called Business Track with Vietnam framework began last November in response to strong calls for engineers and executives from Japan to visit the country, a preferred destination for Japanese investment outside of China.

But it turns out that the bubble produced little cross-border business travel.

“The framework has been used by some diplomats, but I have heard almost no cases involving business travelers,” said an official with knowledge of the program.

Travelers must submit numerous documents in advance, including an itinerary detailing the specific places and people they intend to visit. Once in Vietnam, visitors are accompanied by government employees on every outing and must be tested for the coronavirus every other day.

“It’s not designed for businessmen in the first place,” said an executive at a Japanese trading house.

Japanese people moving to Vietnam for a work transfer have to wait over a month for their registrations to be processed, and Business Track applications would be even more complex with a slim chance of approval. A travel agency that handles inquiries even denies requests “when customers contact us with inquiries,” a company official said.

Vietnam is attracting complaints from foreigners for having one of the strictest border control programs, with no plans to restart regular international flights. But the country, which has kept its total number of infection cases at around 2,600, achieved economic growth of 2.91% for 2020, even excluding foreign businessmen.

Hanoi maintains strict border controls in part due to a slow rollout of vaccines there. Vietnam’s inoculation campaign began on March 8, the latest among Southeast Asia’s six major economies. The country is not expected to meet its 80% vaccine coverage target until June 2022, and that timeline could be pushed back depending on the success of Vietnam’s efforts to develop local vaccines.

Vietnam’s similar bubble programs with South Korea and China also remain unpopular.

“The restart of cross-border travel will likely be much later than in neighboring countries,” said an airline industry insider.

This will put Vietnamese businesses “at a disadvantage” in bringing tourists back to the country, said Nguyen Huu Tho, president of the Vietnam Tourism Association.



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