Old Version

Developing inbound tourism requires efforts far beyond relaxing visa requirements

However, to effectively reestablish China as a popular tourism destination for international travelers, authorities need to go beyond relaxing visa requirements to improve their travel experiences

By NewsChina Updated Apr.1

In an effort to boost inbound tourism, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry launched a raft of visa facilitation policies starting in the second half of 2023. In July, China resumed unilateral visa-free entry for nationals of Singapore and Brunei for short visits. In December, this policy was expanded to nationals of six other countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia. According to data from the National Immigration Administration, 147,000 visitors from the six countries had entered China under the visa-free facilities between December 1, 2023 and January 9, 2024, more than double the figure in the previous month. Seventy percent of them were tourists. In January, Switzerland and Ireland were added to the list of countries whose passport holders can enter China without visas.  

China also expanded its visa-free 72/144- hour stay for transit travelers. Foreign nationals from 54 countries, including 40 European countries, can visit 23 Chinese cities for 72 or 144 hours without a visa if they hold an outbound air ticket to a third country. On January 11, 2024, the NIA issued measures to make it easier for foreign visitors to get a visa. The new policies demonstrate China’s determination to open up to the outside world. However, to effectively re-establish China as a popular tourism destination for international travelers, authorities need to go beyond relaxing visa requirements to improve their travel experiences.  

A major obstacle many international travelers face in China is how to pay for goods and services. In particular, China has become a cashless society as most people make payments via WeChat Pay and Alipay, the country’s dominant mobile payment apps. Accessing payment apps like WeChat Pay requires a Chinese bank account and verification by an existing WeChat and Chinese bank account holder. Many foreign tourists find it challenging to book and pay for things without these. Even buying a simple subway ticket is hard when ticket windows are closed. Although it is legally mandatory to accept cash, many shops and vendors simply do not have enough on hand to provide change.  

Speaking at an event on February 5 at Beijing Capital Airport to formally open a payment service center for visiting foreigners, Zhang Qingsong, Deputy Governor of the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank, pledged that China is encouraging banks and local businesses to accept foreign bank cards and is considering other steps to make mobile payments for international visitors easier. In July, 2023, WeChat Pay and Alipay started allowing verified users to connect their international credit cards, with users reporting Alipay is easier. Zhang said he expects the problem will be effectively addressed within three to six months.  

China will also need to address other issues related to the use of mobile apps. Given the ubiquity, tickets and reservations at cultural venues, museums, scenic spots and parks can only be made on mobile apps. However, nearly all are only in Chinese, and they often do not recognize foreign names or proof of identity such as passports. It makes entry tickets very hard to obtain.  

With its rich history and cultural heritage, varied and spectacular natural wonders, endless cuisine variety, ethnic diversity and robust infrastructure such as an expansive highspeed train network, China has the potential to become a world-leading travel destination. And promoting inbound tourism serves to boost both China’s economy and its ties with the outside world.