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21 Jul, 2013

EU eyes flexible visa rules for China tourists

By Meng Jing

Beijing, 2013-07-20, (China Daily) – The European Union is working on “flexible rules” for visa applications to woo Chinese travelers in a bid to boost the region’s tourism industry, said a top official from the European Commission on Friday.

Antonio Tajani, vice-president of the European Commission, told a news conference in Beijing that the commission aims to make the visa application process easier for Chinese tourists.

“It is very important for the EU to have more Chinese visitors,” Tajani said, adding that the tourism industry is crucial for the EU in terms of creating jobs and boosting economic growth, especially given the region’s debt crisis.

He said he will officially propose the new flexible visa policy in November, but he didn’t reveal how flexible the rules will be, saying they are still under “study”.

Tajani made the announcement as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Beijing, during which he led a 60-member delegation from Europe. The delegation met government officials in China to discuss further bilateral cooperation.

Tourism is one of the main areas where he sees growing potential for cooperation. According to the China Tourism Academy, some 200 million Chinese nationals may travel abroad annually by 2020, up from 82 million in 2012.

Tajani said simplified visa application procedures for Chinese tourists will help the EU to attract more visitors because “the Chinese love Europe”.

He added: “We see that the main problem in visa applications for Chinese is it is very time-consuming.” The EU may introduce electronic visas to speed up the process.

He also proposed a pilot visa project to encourage more Chinese tourists to visit the EU and more Europeans to visit China during the 2015 Expo in Milan, Italy.

The EU very much welcomes visits by Chinese senior citizens, Tajani said. “They have a lot of money and a lot of time,” he said. He added that a change in visa policies would be an important signal to Chinese people that they are very welcome in Europe.

Much must still be done to produce a dramatic increase in the number of Chinese visitors to Europe.

Tajani said that limited air services between China and Europe are another challenge in boosting travel to the EU.

The EC also signed an agreement with China’s National Tourism Administration on Friday for cooperation in sustainable tourism. According to a joint statement, the parties will hold dialogues periodically and exchange tourism information.