Visitors to the Bund in Shanghai in April pose for a photograph, with the Pudong financial district in the background. (WANG GANG/FOR CHINA DAILY)
New policies introduced to attract more overseas, regional visitors
Beijing tour guide Shi Jinjie had a hectic week in the middle of this month.
With more than 10 years' experience in serving inbound travelers to the city, he welcomed some 60 such arrivals from the United States and a total of 12 from Germany and Indonesia.
"We put in a lot of extra hours during the week, averaging more than 12 hours of work each day," he said.
Since the start of this year, the number of inbound tourists to the Chinese mainland from overseas and regions such as Hong Kong and Macao has risen significantly, boosting Shi's business. He now leads a team of dozens of tour guides offering services in languages that include English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and Korean.
He has even higher expectations for the future thanks to a series of policy support measures. The Foreign Ministry announced late this month that China will grant unilateral visa-free entry for up to 15 days to travelers holding passports issued by France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia.
In response, Malaysia has published a visa-free policy for up to 30 days for Chinese travelers, which will take effect on Friday.
The trial policy will be in effect for one year from Dec 1. Citizens of the five European countries and Malaysia can enter China without a visa for business, tourism, family visits and transit purposes. The measure is aimed at facilitating cross-border travel and promoting high-quality development and opening-up, the ministry said.
During the summer and National Day holidays, the services offered by Shi and his team were chosen by hundreds of visitors from countries such as Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Austria, the US, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
"This year has been exceptionally busy. The number of overseas tourists we served nearly doubled, and our financial turnover during the summer grew more than two times compared with the pre-pandemic period," Shi said.
Although the work has been hard, Shi considers this a blessing, as just a year ago, he was struggling.
"Inbound tourism was really slow, and we had to rely on customized domestic tours to make ends meet," he said.
Such tourism took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said that in the first quarter of this year, just 52,000 inbound tourists were catered to by travel agencies nationwide, compared with 3.7 million in the same period in 2019.
The China Tourism Academy said that from 2020 to this year, the number of inbound tourist visits to China is estimated to have fallen by about 370 million, resulting in a loss of some $362 billion in international tourism revenue.
However, inbound tourism is still widely considered to hold great potential in China. In the first 10 months of this year, the number of foreign visitors to the country reached 26.51 million after it optimized its COVID-19 policies, the National Immigration Administration said.
British internet celebrity Lee Barrett has traveled around China since he settled in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, five years ago.
Barrett, who has more than 360,000 fans on YouTube, said: "China is an amazing country, with a lot of places to see and a lot to do. There is super-modern Shenzhen, the international city of Shanghai, culturally-rich Xi'an, and beautiful Kunming."
He said he enjoyed coffee and cake at a street cafe during a trip with friends this month to Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, when he "felt the world pass slowly by".
"Each city has a different style of food, with hundreds of dishes to try," he added.