Six countries benefit from new rules, with more inbound tourism forecast
A visa-free entry policy adopted by China for ordinary passport holders from six countries has been hailed by experts and industry insiders for demonstrating the country's determination to boost tourism and economic exchanges.
Since Friday citizens of France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Spain have been able to enter China without a visa for business, tourism, family visit and transit purposes for up to 15 days, China's Foreign Ministry said. The new rules will be in place for at least a year.
On Friday 2,029 passport holders of the six countries entered China visa-free, 12.5 percent more than on Thursday, the National Immigration Administration said.
"This is a positive and timely development," said Wang Xuan, deputy head of the Department of Hospitality at the University of Surrey in Guildford, southern England.
"The introduction of visa-free travel not only shows China's willingness to welcome more visitors but also offers real benefits, saving time and money, for visitors from those listed countries.
"It is also a strong pull factor for China to attract more desirable tourists who might be making their 2024 holiday plans during the Christmas season."
Jens Hildebrandt, chief representative of the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Beijing, said the visa-free entry policy, which sends a positive message, is "highly valued" by German companies.
Josep Maria Gomes, an international business developer at the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce in Spain, said the measure would make business visits easier, given that China remains attractive to businesses in Spain, Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.
"China has always been a focus for us and is a country that's always in our internationalization plans because it is not only a country with great potential … but also a country where our companies must be present," Gomes said.
Andy Eastham, head of public relations and communications at Wendy Wu Tours, the largest operator of tours to China in the UK, said the move represents China's readiness to further open up to the world.
"It is a positive move from China to say 'We're open, we're ready and we want more inbound tourism.' Obviously we are anticipating that more countries, including the UK, will be added to the list."
Eastham highlighted an increased interest in China from UK customers recently, with more inquiries coming through, and he said the agency is adding capacity for tours in China next year to cater to soaring demand.
Such a positive sign is not only seen in the UK. Trip.com, an international online travel agency owned by one of China's biggest travel service providers, Trip.com Group, said the number of bookings from Europe to China had risen 663 percent in the first 10 months compared with last year, and by almost 29 percent compared with 2019.
British Airways, the UK's flag carrier airline, also welcomed the policy, saying the measures enhance international travel.
"We are committed to facilitating seamless travel experiences for our passengers and adapting to changes in global travel policies," it said.
The airline operates 22 weekly flights between the UK and the Chinese mainland. It said it is committed to playing its role in "strengthening this important travel corridor", with measures including doubling the size of Mandarin-speaking cabin crews and refreshing inflight entertainment systems.
The visa-free entry policy is China's latest effort to improve its visa policies. Earlier last month it expanded its visa-free transit policy to 54 countries to include citizens of Norway. In July China resumed visa-free entry for citizens of Singapore and Brunei.
At the beginning of the year China scrapped all COVID-19 testing requirements to give easier access to foreigners traveling to the country.