Make it easier to visit China

By Du Qiongfang Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-13 18:38:01


Illustration: Chen Xia/GT
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT


As China continues to open up to the outside world, cities like Shanghai and Beijing are becoming ever more popular as tourist destinations for overseas travelers. And the authorities are therefore pursuing efforts to give foreign tourists a more convenient traveling environment. So, at the beginning of this year, a 72-hour, visa-free stay policy in Shanghai and Beijing took effect and which will benefit travelers from 45 countries in total.

However, six visitors - four Britons and two Canadians - were stopped at the exit-entry inspection point at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on April 23 because they had misunderstood the terms of this policy.

They had planned to enter China at Pudong, and then leave the country for Alaska on April 26 by a cruise ship through Wusong Port in Baoshan district. They believed they could benefit from the 72-hour rule, and have a three-day trip in Shanghai. So they didn't obtain any Chinese visa at all.

However, the policy states that foreigners can stay in Shanghai for 72 hours without a valid Chinese visa only if they depart from either Pudong or Hongqiao airport.

If this is not the case, travelers need to obtain a regular Chinese visa.

When the six tourists realized their mistake, they imagined that they would have to rearrange their departure, or abandon their plans altogether. Thankfully, the immigration officers were sensitive to their plight, realizing it was a genuine mistake, and arranged for each of them to be issued with a regular visa.

This helpful gesture was also undoubtedly in recognition of the fact that the current policy is somewhat confusing, and far from perfect.

In order to attract more Chinese tourists, many countries have recently simplified and speeded up their visa application procedures for Chinese mainland visitors.

And as a country with a vast size, and abundant natural resources and scenic spots, it is imperative that the Chinese authorities provide tourist-friendly visa policies in order to attract travelers. And this is more important than ever in order to stimulate the nationwide economy which has been slowing down of late.

The 72-hour visa-free policy is a good step in this direction, but I believe it can be made even more convenient and practical.

For example, three days may be long enough to take in Shanghai's major downtown hot spots, such as Yuyuan Garden, Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street and the Bund. However, it is not nearly long enough to enjoy the city's many suburban attractions, or to visit nearby cities like Hangzhou or Suzhou.

And the policy means that such tourists will have to waste time traveling back to Shanghai in order to leave the country.

And, as was the case with the six aforementioned tourists, the policy also ignores the fact that Shanghai is one of the biggest ports in China, and is welcoming more and more luxury cruises to dock here.

If tourists traveling by cruise are also allowed to enjoy a 72-hour visa-free stay in Shanghai, then surely this too will help to stimulate the local economy.

I understand policymakers are naturally prudent and cautious when it comes to implementing a new policy. But it is important this policy is practical in everyday use, and that it really benefits travelers.

The good news issued last week is that the Shanghai Tourism Bureau is working on extending the 72-hour visa-free policy to Shanghai's ports.

By the end of this year, tourists from those same 45 countries will be able to enjoy this policy regardless of whether they travel to and from Shanghai by plane or ship.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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