In early April 2016, the Vietnamese government approved new visa durations for American travelers, making it easier than ever to visit. Instead of the current limit of three months, US travelers will be able to stay in Vietnam for up to one year once the new extension comes into effect. The new visa length is reciprocal to changes made in the US, where Vietnamese passport holders are now also able to obtain year-long tourist visas. While this is the most recent change that makes it easier for Americans to visit Southeast Asia and vice versa, Vietnam is just one of several ASEAN member states trying to attract more US visitors.
In the Philippines, officials are concerned about the gradually diminishing growth rate of tourism. In order to counter this, the Filipino diving industry, rich with a large marine ecosystem, is working to promote their waters among foreign divers and scuba enthusiasts. Based on data from the Filipino Tourism Department, 126,200 divers visited the country in 2012, but promotional efforts have raised the number considerably, with 200,000 foreign divers projected to visit in 2016. In recent years, divers from the US have been among the top three nationalities to visit, along with South Korea and Germany.
Both the Philippines and Vietnam’s moves have so far proven fruitful, producing an upward trend in tourism rates. The Philippines saw the most foreign tourists of any month in the last five years during the month of February in 2016. Visitors from the US accounted for almost 156,000 tourists in just the month of February, making it the second largest source of tourists overall, just behind South Korea. There has also been a rise in the number of American tourists to Vietnam over the last year, which is likely to grow further with the implementation of the visa extension in the upcoming months. These countries hope to increase revenues from the vital tourism industry and increasing the appeal and accessibility of their countries for US visitors is a key part of those efforts.
Lian Eytinge is research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the University of Southern California.