Por Ji Jing

Around 140 tourists from countries including Singapore and Malaysia arrived in Shanghai on New Year’s Eve, just in time for the holiday celebration. They watched dragon dances, rang bells at a local temple for good luck and watched light shows, all as part of events for the city’s countdown to the New Year.

Fang Shizhong, director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism, told Xinhua News Agency that New Year-themed events in Shanghai have been held since 1989, helping the city pass on cultural traditions such as eating noodles during countdown and visit open-air markets.

He said Shanghai is making efforts to develop itself as a high-end international travel destination and reinforce its reputation as a “first stop” in China for international tourists. These tourist trips to China are marking a new step in the recovery of tourism in the country.

Make travel easier – The government has unveiled a series of measures in recent months aimed at stimulating the inbound tourism market. On November 24, 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a unilateral visa-free policy for holders of ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia, on a test basis. Through this policy, ordinary passport holders from these six countries can enter China without a visa for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends and transit for up to 15 days from December 1 to November 30 this year.

As of the effective date of the visa exemption policy, a total of 147,000 visitors from these six countries entered China without a visa, according to data from January 9th from the National Immigration Administration (NIA). On January 8 alone, more than 4,300 visitors from these six countries entered China without a visa, more than double the number on December 1, 2023. About 70% of those who arrived with ordinary visa-exempt passports involved in tourism and leisure.

After the implementation of the visa-free policy, the port of Nanning in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region saw an increase in the number of tourists coming from abroad. Data from Nanning border control authorities showed that as of December 31, 2023, about 2,800 people in 121 travel groups entered China through this port. China and Thailand will permanently waive visa requirements for their respective citizens from March, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced on January 2.

The Foreign Office has announced a simplification of its visa application process on September 20, 2023. Visa application forms have been modified and made more accessible and user-friendly for applicants. Furthermore, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced on December 8, 2023 a 25% reduction in the visa application fee charged by China from December 11, 2023 to December 31, 2024 .

The NIA has also optimized entry-exit management policies to further increase visits to China. China’s 72-hour and 144-hour visa-free transit policies have been extended to visitors from 54 countries, said Mao Xu, director of the NIA’s Foreigner Management Department, during the China International Travel Mart held in Kunming, Yunnan Province , in November 2023. Visitors from these transit visa-exempt countries are permitted to travel or carry out business-related activities in certain areas permitted by visa port authorities, Mao said.

The 144-hour visa-free transit policy applies to about 20 major cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, Nanjing in Jiangsu Province and Chengdu in Sichuan Province. Changsha in Hunan Province, Harbin
in Heilongjiang Province and Guilin in Guangxi have implemented the 72-hour policy. The NIA announced five new measures to facilitate visits to China at a press conference on January 11, including easing visa application requirements and streamlining visa application materials.

Last December, Liang Jianzhang, co-founder and president of the largest Chinese online travel agency, Trip.com Group, told online news portal Jiemian.com that the implementation of visa-free policies is a healthy attempt to increase tourism welcoming, but compared to other countries, China’s visa application process still has great room for improvement. For example, visa-free policies could be extended to more countries.

Liang added that simply adjusting visa policies is not the best way to boost inbound tourism, and that it is more important to improve the ease of visitors traveling to China in other ways.

Tour guides receive English language training in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. (Reproduction/China Today)

Obstacles and inconveniences – China resumed issuing all types of visas on March 15, 2023, and allowed the entry of tourist groups from March 31 of that year. However, the resumption of tourism towards China was slow. According to statistics from the China Tourism Academy, Chinese travel agencies received 477,800 tourists from abroad in the first half of 2023, a sharp drop compared to the 8.56 million tourists recorded in the same period of 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19.

After the three-year suspension imposed by COVID-19, it is taking time for overseas travel companies to readjust their allocation of staff and other resources to sell Chinese tourism products again, said Zhou Zhanfeng, deputy general manager from CYTS International Travel, responsible for inbound tourism to the country from North America, South America and German-speaking European countries.

He made these observations in December 2023. The slow recovery of international flights is another reason for the slow recovery of the inbound tourism market. Qi Qi, deputy director of the School of Management of Guangzhou College of Civil Aviation, told Economic Daily that during the pandemic, airlines have laid off employees on a massive scale in China and that it takes some time to re-employ and train new employees; Furthermore, many overseas areas do not have a high motivation to recover their flight services to China due to concerns about market demand and costs.

Furthermore, efforts need to be made to remove obstacles faced by foreign tourists when traveling within China. Malaysian Zhang Weili, for example, traveled to Beijing on business in October 2023 and stayed several extra days to see the city’s attractions. However, he discovered that the attractions he wanted to visit all required a complicated online ticket booking procedure, and some systems required the use of a Chinese ID.

Hotel services for visitors also need to be improved. He Fei, an English-speaking tour guide in Guilin, told Economic Daily that most of the high-end hotels in her city had English-speaking staff members before the pandemic, but many quit their jobs due to a lack of foreign travelers. . She also found that services for international visitors such as Western-standard food and foreign currency exchange disappear from these hotels.

Furthermore, in China, not all hotels are allowed to host foreign travelers, and those that do often charge high prices. Zhang said he wanted to experience a homestay in Beijing, but when he called a homestay to inquire about room availability, he was told they were not allowed to host foreigners. Sun Mengyang, a tourism marketing professor at Peking Union University College, suggested that the government increase the number of homestays and youth hostels allowed to host foreigners, in order to better meet the needs of young international tourists.

Strengthen promotion – In addition to having to work around these inconveniences, foreign visitors also have little understanding of China as a tourist destination. Ning Guoxin, vice president of Chinese tour services company U-Tour, told Jiemian.com that the image of China as an ancient oriental civilization is widely circulated in the international tourism market. “However, in addition to being an ancient civilization, we also have national parks and magnificent mountains and rivers, which should also be introduced to visitors from other countries,” Ning said.

To persuade foreign visitors, many Chinese travel companies are going abroad to promote their products. Zhou Xiaoguang, general manager of one such agency, Guilin-based Tang Dynasty Tours, has recently been busy attending international travel exhibitions to promote his products.

Zhou Xiaoguang added that greater emphasis should be placed on promoting Chinese products online. “Like their Chinese counterparts, young people from other countries like to watch short videos on platforms. Tourism promotion must make use of these platforms to attract more young people.”

This article was originally published in the 47th edition of China Hoje magazine. Join the China Today Community for free and access the full content.

Source: https://www.chinahoje.net/refazendo-o-destino-china/

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