China to offer visa-free policy to five European countries, Malaysia
Move to lead to large inflow of foreign tourists
Published: Nov 24, 2023 08:31 PM
Tourists Photo: IC

Tourists Photo: IC

China will roll out a one-year visa-free policy to citizens from six countries - France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia - starting on De-cember 1, 2023, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Friday, as part of fresh efforts to bring about cross-border people-to-people exchanges to serve the country's high-quality development and opening-up. 

Residents from the six countries holding ordinary passports can enter China without a visa and stay for at most 15 days for business, sightseeing, visiting families and friends, and transit.  

Industry insiders said it would mark "one of the largest relaxations" in the visa-free program in decades, and would lead to the inflow of "unprecedented foreign tourists and entrepreneurs" to China that bodes well for the recovery of the world's second-largest economy, especially its inbound tourism market, which has yet to bounce back to pre-COVID levels.

Germany's ambassador to China, Patricia Flor, said on social media platform X that the German diplomatic missions in China welcome the decision to offer German citizens a visa-free stay of up to 15 days in China beginning in De-cember. 

Xu Xiaolei, a marketing manager at China's CYTS Tours Holding Co, told the Global Times on Friday that the program could be "one of the largest" in dec-ades, and will result in a major boost to the inbound tourism market. 

"A number of foreign tourists from those six countries are expected to travel to China during the upcoming Christmas holidays, traditionally a travel peak period," said Xu. He also urged relevant parties, including travel companies and airport authorities, to do more work to prepare for the arrival of more foreign tourists.

CYTS Tours has rolled out inbound tourism products targeting the six coun-tries, with the Germany and Netherlands markets leading the recovery, according to media reports.

China's tourism market has seen uneven recovery this year. While the outbound tourism market is recovering rapidly, the inbound tourism sector only recovered to 12 percent of the same period of 2019 in the first half of 2023, data from Ministry of Culture and Tourism revealed. In 2022, China welcomed about 20 million inbound tourists, accounting for 14 percent of the annual volume in 2019. 

In mid-November, China expanded its visa-free transit policy to include citi-zens from Norway for a 72/144-hour stay, bringing the total number of appli-cable countries to 54, according to media reports. China also scrapped 48-hour COVID test requirements for inbound arrivals starting from August 30. The measures came after China resumed 15-day visa-free entry for citizens of Singapore and Brunei In July. 

Dong Shaopeng, a senior research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Finan-cial Studies under the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Friday that the expansion of the visa-free policy is also in line with China's commitment to further opening-up. 

"The active move can energize foreign private investment and business visits to China, defying what some foreign media hyped as a 'foreign capital exodus,'" said Dong. He noted that the measure could synergize with a series of policies the Chinese government released this year to further draw in foreign investment.

The visa-free policy to five European countries and Malaysia comes amid closer bilateral trade and economic relations between China and the European bloc as well as China and Southeast Asia. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and EU were ranked as China's largest and second-largest trading partners in the first 10 months of 2023.   

China will continue to improve policies related to visas and the inbound tour-ism sector, including optimizing Chinese visa application procedures and gradually phasing out visa application appointments, said an official from the Foreign Ministry during the China International Travel Mart 2023 held in Kunming in Southwest China's Yunnan Province in November this year, according to a report by the China Economic Times.