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27 Aug, 2014

China plans to further expand 72-hour visa policy for foreigners

By Su Zhou (China Daily)

Beijing, China Daily, 2014-08-22 – China is aiming to attract more overseas tourists by expanding a 72-hour visa-free policy for foreigners and launching more promotional websites in a variety of languages.

Officials are considering measures to expedite visa processing and develop the system of visa-free stays for international transit passengers, the State Council said in a guideline published on Thursday.

The policy is already operating in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Guilin and Xi’an.

At the same time, the country plans to extend its global reach by setting up tourism websites with more information in more languages.

Officials hope the moves will help to improve its disappointing inbound tourism figures.

Outbound tourism is booming, but the inbound sector has seen declines in visitor numbers and the amount of money spent by visitors.

Beijing received 2.36 million overseas visitors from January to July, a drop of 5.9 percent compared with the same period last year, according to the capital’s statistics bureau.

The China Tourism Academy said Chinese tourists spent $47 billion more overseas than foreign visitors spent in China in the first half of the year. This means China has the largest tourism trade deficit of any country.

Wei Xiao’an, a researcher in tourism economics at the China Tourism Academy, said that external economic conditions and the fact that tourism services are less developed in some areas have contributed to the inbound tourism decline.

“The appreciation of the yuan means a trip to China is more expensive, and the struggling international economy means many people in other countries do not have enough money to travel,” said Wei.

“In addition, pollution in China has attracted global attention and kept overseas visitors away, especially those from Asian countries.

“Tourism services still need to be improved in certain areas. Cities such as Shanghai have done really well, but some inner cities need to internationalize their products and services.”

Alistair Michie, deputy chairman of the 48 Group Club, an independent business network, said the major hurdle for overseas tourists is the limited amount of tourism information available online.

He said many websites run by local tourism authorities suffer from problems such as as poor translation, limited language choice and unattractive page design. This makes China look totally unattractive for many overseas tourists.

“Tourists in other countries are not sufficiently exposed to China’s tourism resources,” said Michie. “If they come here they love it, but before that websites need to let them know about the beauty of a city.”

Xinhua contributed to this story.