14m trips made by foreign tourists in China in first half; growing appeal dispels erroneous Western portrayals
Published: Jul 05, 2024 10:24 PM Updated: Jul 05, 2024 11:17 PM
Foreign tourists enjoy the scenery on a bamboo raft on Yulong River in Yangshuo county, Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on July 15, 2023. Photo: VCG

Foreign tourists enjoy the scenery on a bamboo raft on Yulong River in Yangshuo county, Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on July 15, 2023. Photo: VCG

Inbound travel to China has surged in the first half of 2024, driven by the benefits of an expanding visa-free policy for travelers from foreign countries.

Observers said the growing appeal of China as a tourism, business, and exchange destination has exposed international travelers to the authentic contemporary Chinese lifestyle, dispelling the erroneous portrayals by certain Western media outlets that depict China as an isolated nation.

China's welcoming and inclusive gesture to international tourists stands in stark contrast to the actions of certain Western countries like the US, which often talk about freedom but are seen to consistently promote camp confrontation and decoupling, observers said. 

In the first half of the year, 14.635 million foreign national entries to China through various ports were recorded, a year-on-year increase of 152.7 percent, according to data released by the National Immigration Administration (NIA) on Friday.

Among them, 8.542 million entries were made under the visa-free policy, accounting for 52 percent, a year-on-year increase of 190.1 percent. The administration predicts that foreigners' enthusiasm for coming to China in the second half of this year will continue to rise.

China has successively implemented unilateral visa-free policies for 15 countries including France, Germany, and Australia since last year, Lin Yongsheng, a spokesperson of the administration told the press conference.

Nationals from these countries holding ordinary passports can enter China for business, tourism, visiting relatives, and transit without a visa for up to 15 days. Additionally, China has reached mutual visa exemption with another seven countries including Singapore and Thailand. 

The implementation of these policies has played a positive role in enhancing mutual trust between countries, promoting economic and trade exchanges, and facilitating personnel exchanges, Lin said. 

Data released by Ctrip on Friday shows that the visa-free transit policy continues to drive growth in inbound tourism. In the second quarter of 2024, inbound tourism orders to China from overseas travelers from 54 countries enjoying the 72/144-hour visa-free transit policy increased by 28 percent compared with the first quarter. 

Among them, there are more tourists from countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Australia, the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Spain, and France. Among the main inbound tourism countries, Greece, Brazil, Hungary, Russia, and Canada saw higher increases compared with the first quarter, data from Ctrip showed. 

American vlogger Paul Mike Ashton, known as "Bao Bao Xiong" in Chinese, who lives in Shanghai, recently shot to fame on Chinese social media and even attracted the interest of celebrities with his "city or not city" travel meme - a Chinese-English catchphrase that asks whether a place has the atmosphere of a big city or an activity is stylish.

Ashton went viral with a vlog during his visit to the Great Wall in Beijing in May with his sister, garnering hundreds of thousands of likes on different social media platforms.

Many other elements of contemporary Chinese lifestyle have exceeded the previous understanding of China by most foreign tourists, such as Northeast China's Guobaorou (fried pork), the orderly subway systems, mobile payments and ubiquitous delivery robots.

When foreign tourists can easily enter China and genuinely immerse themselves in the vibrant, diverse, and multifaceted modern country, they are able to observe a China that starkly contrasts with the portrayal by Western mainstream media. Many foreign tourists find that their concerns prior to visiting China vanish upon experiencing the country. The real China is an open and inclusive country, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday.

Danny Casale, an animator from the US with millions of followers on social media platforms, previously told the Global Times that the food in Beijing is delicious, especially the dumplings. "And when I walk in Beijing, everyone is very kind and sweet," he said, adding that he will bring more friends to visit the country in the future.

China's increasing popularity as a destination for tourism, business, and various exchanges contradicts claims by certain Western media outlets that portray China as isolated. In contrast, the facts fly in the face of some Western countries like the US, which often labels itself as freedom-loving but in reality, consistently promotes confrontation and division, Li further said.

"The governance and environment of China is not decided by certain distorted Western media, narrow-minded thinking, and subjective conjectures imposed on the international public," he said.

Some forces claiming that the opinions shared by international tourists are no more than propaganda is due to the fact that it has shaken their deeply ingrained political biases. It will take time for them to process and acknowledge the reality that the facts overturned their preconceived notions of China, Miao Lü, secretary general of the Center for China and Globalization, told the Global Times on Friday.