China’s visa-free proposal boosts inbound travel, but Chinese tourists still prefer to stay at home

“We are expecting a recovery from the last three years [my company had] almost zero turnover in China.”

China Travel Trends 2024: Easier Visas, More Cultural Tourism

From December 1, visitors with passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia can enter Visa free China until November 30. They can stay up to 15 days for work, tourism, family visits and transit purposes.

In the month since the policy was implemented, inbound travel to China from the six countries granted visa-free status has increased nearly 30 percent to 214,000 compared with November, according to China’s National Immigration Administration.

Of those travelers, 55 percent entered China without visas in December, according to the administration’s website.

China-based travel agencies that cater to foreign tourists are also seeing encouraging activity.

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The gondola overturned after tourists refused to stop taking selfies

The gondola overturned after tourists refused to stop taking selfies

Dai Feng, who runs Asia Odyssey Travel in Chengdu in Sichuan province, said more than 10 tour groups from Spain and Germany have booked trips to China through his company since the visa-free policy was introduced.

Dye said business has improved enough that he plans to increase his marketing budget this year.

Mary Ma, who runs a travel agency based in Beijing, agreed that things are improving.

“Many tourists from Western countries are actually very interested in exploring China, but applying for a visa was complicated in the past, which often discouraged travel,” she said.

“The new policies encouraging inbound travel are a big boost for business and we are quite optimistic about the industry’s outlook.”

Meanwhile, Singapore has announced a 30-day reciprocal visa-waiver scheme with China to be rolled out this year.

China also intends to increase the number of scheduled international flights. The Civil Aviation Administration of China said Thursday it plans to have 6,000 international flights scheduled per week by the end of 2024, about 80 percent of pre-Covid levels.

China promises more flights, simpler entry procedures to facilitate exchanges

Still, geopolitical tensions and inconvenient payment methods continue to create uncertainty overseas travel to China.

“I have contacted some travelers who have canceled their trip to China in 2020. Some of them have negative views of China now after seeing how China handled Covid-19 and do not want to return to China,” said Le Guyadere.

Charlie Chen, who runs Easy Tour China, a Guangxi-based travel agency, said he hopes the government will allow more convenient payment methods.

Alipay and WeChat Pay, the two main digital mobile payment options in China, revamped their services in July to simplify the use of international cards on their platforms.

However, Chen said many users are reluctant to pay the transaction fees charged by the systems and enter their personal information.

According to mainland media outlet Yicai, once in China, foreign travelers face additional payment inconveniences as many vending machines that supported foreign card payments were removed during the pandemic due to low usage and maintenance costs.

Faced with such challenges, Western tourists are considering other destinations in the region, such as Japan, the Philippines and Myanmar.

Dai says his company receives five times as many inquiries about other Southeast Asian countries as it does about China.

“For the same €2,000 (US$2,185), visitors to Southeast Asian countries are likely to have a better travel experience as they can afford better hotels,” he said.

At the same time, Southeast Asian countries continue to see fewer Chinese travelers.

Thailandwhich depends on China for more than a quarter of its annual foreign visitor numbers, saw inbound travel from China drop by a third in the first 11 months of 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Thailand’s tourism ministry.

On Tuesday, Thailand announced an extension of its unilateral visa waiver for Chinese tourists that expired at the end of February, and in December Malaysia introduced 30-day visa-free travel for Chinese citizens.

China sees cross-border travel return to pre-Covid numbers over the New Year holidays

But the lingering economic effects of the pandemic and regional security concerns continue to deter many Chinese from travel abroadaccording to a customer service executive at travel agency Shenzhen Overseas Tour.

“The impact of the pandemic is quite large and the overall economic environment this year is not very good,” the executive said.

“Cheaper domestic tours are more favored by our customers,” she said, adding that she hoped China’s outbound travel would pick up again after the Lunar New Year.

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