More Chinese mainland cities are adopting visa waiver policies for foreign tourists to attract more overseas visitors.
Ten cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Guilin and Xi’an have visa waivers that target transit passengers.
As these cities reported boosts of inbound tourists, many of whom benefited from the visa waiver policies, the Chinese authorities are considering further measures to speed up visa processing and optimize visa-free stays for international transit passengers.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, said the scheme would bolster tourism to and from Asia, central and eastern Europe and Africa.
Beijing, the first city to adopt the policy nationwide, vowed to come up with more incentives and further promote its visa waiver, through cooperation with hotels, shopping areas and airline companies.
Beijing Capital International Airport offers visitors discounts on dining and free accommodation if they spend a certain amount.
The airport has also introduced a free luggage storage service, which allows transit passengers making visa-free visits to Beijing to deposit luggage for free with a temporary entry permit seal on their passports at special counters.
The Beijing General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection also promised to simplify the transit application process. The capital relaxed its 72-hour visa-free transit policy to allow tourists traveling under the arrangement to claim back prohibited-entry goods upon leaving the city.
Transit passengers not taking advantage of the visa waiver but stopping in Beijing can also retrieve goods prohibited from entering the city, including pets and food, upon their departure, according to the Beijing Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.
The Beijing visa exemption scheme was introduced on Jan 1, 2013, and allows tourists from 45 countries to stay in the capital for three days without a visa.
Other cities are also looking to extend their visa waiver policies to make it easier for foreign-funded travel agencies to get business certificates from local tourism authorities.
Guangzhou, the third city to introduce the policy after Beijing and Shanghai, said it would further simplify exit and entry procedures and improve traveler facilities and the shopping environment.
Zhao Yufang, deputy governor of Guangdong, said in a previous interview with China Daily that the visa waiver had and would further promote Guangzhou as an international aviation hub and a key metropolis of China.
“The visa-free policy will cement Guangzhou’s status as a key metropolis of China, an international aviation hub and a world-renowned tourist destination,” she said.
Neighboring areas to the ten cities using visa waivers will also benefit from the policy, said insiders.
Window of the World is a major attraction in Shenzhen and is a one-hour train journey from Guangzhou. The attraction’s owners said that they expected the new policy to draw more visitors from Europe and the United States to the tourist spot.
Despite the expectations, tourist industry insiders and experts still consider the transit visitor figures to be less than satisfactory compared to the overall number of inbound tourists.
According to Chen Bin, head of the Beijing General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection, the capital received 13,700 visits from transit passengers, with most of them holding a US passport.
Immigration authorities at Baiyun airport in Guangzhou said during the past year there were 4,300 visitors who benefited from the 72-hour visa waiver policy.
Wang Hongyuan, manager of travel agency SAL Tour, told China Daily that the major reason for the less than satisfactory results was poor promotion of the policy.
Yang Jinsong, a professor of international tourism at the China Tourism Academy, told China Daily that it would take time to attract more transit passengers.
“Inbound tourism in China has only been through a few decades of development,” he said. “However, as Beijing has witnessed nearly double the number of travelers that benefited from the capital’s 72-hour visa waiver policy in January compared with the same period last year, it’s a good sign the visa waiver policy is working.”