China has announced a new policy granting visa-free access to citizens from five key European countries and Malaysia.
This landmark decision, revealed Friday, marks a strategic effort by China to rejuvenate its global visitors’ influx, which had dwindled due to pandemic-induced travel restrictions.
Effective from December 1st, nationals from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia will experience the ease of traveling to China sans visa for up to a fortnight. This one-year pilot program is a part of China’s broader strategy to enhance cultural and business exchanges, as articulated by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.
In September, we shared the news of the significant simplification of its visa application process in a bid to attract more international visitors. Now, the latest decision arrives at a time when international travel to China is still struggling to reach pre-pandemic levels, primarily due to stringent COVID-19 measures including mandatory quarantines for all arrivals. Although these measures were relaxed earlier in the year, the rebound in international tourism has been sluggish.
Previously, China had extended a similar visa-free privilege to Brunei, Japan, and Singapore, which was suspended following the COVID-19 outbreak. The program was reinstated for Brunei and Singapore in July, but Japan remains excluded for now. Now, China plans to reintroduce visa exemptions for Singapore beginning in early 2024.
Rekindling International Interest in China
The first half of this year saw China record approximately 8.4 million entries and exits by foreigners, a stark contrast to the 977 million recorded in 2019, the pre-pandemic year. This move is also seen as a step towards invigorating China’s economy, which has seen a slowdown, by attracting foreign investment and visitors.
According to the latest Economic Impact Research by WTTC, China’s Travel & Tourism sector is anticipated to contribute $1.48 trillion to the national economy by the end of 2023, marking over a 150% increase from 2022.
Prominent figures like Elon Musk of Tesla and Tim Cook of Apple have been among the business elites visiting China for various trade and business meetings. However, foreign tourists are yet to return in numbers comparable to the pre-pandemic era.
China: A Growing European Tourist Attraction
Interestingly, there has been a marked increase in the interest of Europeans in China as a travel destination. According to Trip.com, bookings from Europe to China have skyrocketed by 663% compared to 2022, showing a nearly 29% increase from 2019 figures. The United Kingdom and Germany rank among the top ten sources of inbound travelers to China, with Shenzhen and Shanghai being the most favored destinations.
To further attract European visitors, China is not only relying on its new visa policies but is also actively enhancing its tourism infrastructure. Investments in technology, travel guides, e-payment systems, and the promotion of its rich cultural and historical heritage are part of this comprehensive strategy to welcome more tourists from Europe and beyond.