China will offer greater visa-free access for tourists from 59 countries to Hainan from May 1, in a move to support reform and opening up in the country's southernmost island province, the State Immigration Administration announced Wednesday.[Special coverage]
Under the new policy, group and individual tourists from 59 countries, including Russia, Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, can visit Hainan visa-free and stay there for up to 30 days on condition that they book their tour through travel agencies.
Hainan has offered a 15-day visa-free stay for group tourists from 21 countries since 2000, and added another five countries to the list in 2010.
"By extending the policy to individuals and the stay to up to 30 days, the government aims to attract more international tourists, nurture the tourism industry and meet the needs of foreign individuals," said the administration's vice head Qu Yunhai.
The eased visa-free access to Hainan is part of China's effort to build the province into "a free trade port with Chinese characteristics," as stated in the guidelines on supporting Hainan to deepen reform and opening up, released by central authorities Saturday.
The island has become a famous tropical resort for overseas tourists in recent years, with the number of overseas tourists exceeding 1.1 million in 2017, up nearly 50 percent year on year.
Last year, Hainan received nearly 320,000 tourists from the 26 countries with visa-free access, 3.5 times the number recorded in 2016. Tourists from Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea (ROK)and Russia accounted for more than 90 percent of the total.
"The policy will inject vitality into Hainan and bring us closer to our goal of becoming a world-class destination," said Sun Ying, director of the provincial tourism development commission.
"Now, it's our golden time!" said Li Yongquan, who has been a guide for foreign tourists in Hainan for 18 years. Li said local tourist guides should be ready themselves for the influx of foreign tourists.
The association of travel agencies in Haikou, capital of Hainan, plans to offer language and cultural training to employees with more than 200 local travel agencies, according to Mai Weiwen, secretary-general of the association.
More direct flights are planned to countries with visa-free access. Hainan already has 57 international flights to countries including Germany, Malaysia and Thailand, with plans for at least 16 new overseas routes this year. It aims to have at least 100 overseas routes by 2020.