China Lures Tourists With Visa-Free Initiatives


The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed optimism about the mutual visa exemptions, stating that it “serves the fundamental interests of both peoples…reports Asian Lite News

In a bid to revitalise its tourism industry and boost its struggling economy post-pandemic, China has engaged in a series of diplomatic moves to attract foreign tourists, CNN reported.

The most recent development is an agreement with Thailand, wherein both countries have decided to permanently waive visa requirements for each other’s citizens, effective in March. This reciprocal visa-free scheme, announced by Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, follows Thailand’s earlier decision in September to waive visas for Chinese tourists until February.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed optimism about the mutual visa exemptions, stating that it “serves the fundamental interests of both peoples,” as reported by CNN.

Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, during a regular news briefing, said, “The government departments responsible for the matter are in close communication on the specifics. We look forward to the early implementation of the arrangement.”

China’s efforts to attract international tourists have been evident in its previous initiatives. In November, China introduced a trial programme allowing visitors from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia to enter visa-free for 15 days. This policy, initiated in December, is set to last for 12 months until the end of November this year. The National Immigration Administration reported that in December alone, 1,18,000 travellers from these six nations entered China without a visa under the new policy, with over 77 per cent of them visiting for sightseeing, leisure, or business activities.

While the policy has shown initial success, its long-term impact remains to be seen. Tourists from distant countries, particularly in Europe, typically plan trips to China months in advance, and winter is not traditionally a peak tourist season due to cold weather in many parts of the country.

China has also taken steps to facilitate travel for American tourists by simplifying the visa application process. Starting from January 1, travellers from the United States no longer need to submit proof for round-trip air tickets, hotel reservations, itinerary, or an invitation letter to apply for a tourist visa, as confirmed by the Chinese Embassy in the United States, according to CNN.

Despite these efforts, the return of international travellers to China has been gradual and has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. In the first half of 2023, Chinese immigration authorities recorded a total of 8.4 million entries and exits by foreign nationals, representing less than 30 per cent of the number recorded during the same period in 2019. In the third quarter of the year, the number of entries and exits by foreigners rose to 8 million, still only half the level from the same period in 2019.

Chinese travel agencies have also experienced a substantial drop in foreign tourists, with only 5.58 per cent of the number recorded in the first six months of 2019. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism reported that Chinese travel agencies received 4,77,800 foreign tourists in the first half of 2023. However, no data has been released since the second half of the previous year.

China’s push to attract international travellers is part of broader efforts to stimulate its economy, which faces numerous challenges.

In August, the country dropped all pre-entry Covid-19 test requirements for inbound passengers, allowed business travellers to obtain visas on arrival, and exempted visitors from certain countries from fingerprint collection. The initiatives are aimed at creating a more visitor-friendly environment, but the pace of recovery in the tourism sector remains a significant concern for Chinese authorities, CNN reported. (ANI)

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