China Unveils New Measures to Boost Tourism and Attract International Travelers

Posted by Written by Giulia Interesse Reading Time: 4 minutes

China has revealed a strategy to revitalize its tourism sector and attract a greater number of foreign tourists. This initiative includes the reintroduction of visa-free policies and measures to simplify travel and payment procedures.

China, a country renowned for its diverse landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture, has been working to overcome a significant challenge in recent years—attracting foreign tourists. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated this endeavor, due to limits on international travel. Now, with the reopening of its borders, China’s government is rolling out measures to make visiting the country more appealing and accessible to global travelers.

On September 29, 2023, the State Council released a Notice on Several Measures to Promote High-Quality Development of the Tourism Industry (hereinafter referred to as the measures) aimed at addressing some of the key barriers that have deterred foreign tourists. These measures target safety concerns, visa complexities, and the country’s unique payment systems that have oft posed challenges for international visitors.

In this article, we present the initiatives by the Chinese government to boost inbound tourism and their potential impact on the country’s economic growth.

The current state of inbound tourism

China’s tourism industry, once a vibrant and essential part of its economy, has been grappling with a myriad obstacles to growth in recent years. These stem from nearly three years of pandemic-induced isolation and sealed borders.

While China’s borders were cautiously reopened earlier this year, foreign travelers have been slow to return to the country. Several factors have contributed to this sluggish recovery, including a cumbersome visa process, limited flight options, and complex digital payment systems primarily designed for Chinese users. In 2019, South Korea, Russia, Japan, the United States, and Australia were among the largest sources of foreign tourists for China, according to data from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. However, post-pandemic, attracting tourists from these nations has proven challenging.

What’s in China’s plan to attract foreign tourists

1.     Optimization of visa and customs policies

Navigating visa and customs procedures can be a hurdle for foreign travelers. China is fully aware of this challenge and is committed to addressing it. The measures highlight the importance of enhancing visa processing efficiency through different actions, including:

  • Digitalization of visa issuance: China is advancing its digital capabilities in visa issuance. This not only improves the convenience for travelers but also aligns with global trends toward digital travel documents.
  • Reinstating and expanding visa exemptions: As COVID-19-related travel restrictions are lifted, China is gradually reinstating various visa exemptions. Additionally, the government is actively exploring opportunities to expand the list of countries eligible for visa exemptions.
  • Leveraging the key role of port visas and transit visa exemptions: Port visas, transit visa exemptions, and regional entry visa exemptions are key components of the strategy.

The combination of these proposed measures can play a crucial role in facilitating smoother customs clearance, making China a more attractive destination for international travelers.

2.     Resumption of international flights

The limited availability of international flights during the pandemic significantly impacted foreign tourist arrivals. Recognizing this, China is actively working on resuming and increasing international flight connections. The focus is on expanding routes with countries that serve as major sources of inbound tourists and neighboring nations. This initiative is not only essential for attracting tourists but also for boosting business travel and trade connections.

3.     Payment facilitation

One of the critical challenges facing foreign tourists in China has been the complexity of payment systems, particularly digital ones, which are primarily designed for Chinese users. Recognizing the importance of a seamless payment experience for travelers, the measures mention upcoming plans to simplify and enhance payment facilitation.

For instance, WeChat has recently expanded its features to allow foreigners to link their international cards to the app. This development has significantly improved the convenience of digital payments for international visitors, aligning with the government’s objectives. Furthermore, the digital yuan app has introduced a new update that is optimized for foreign bank cards, marking another step towards simplifying payment processes for tourists. These advancements are part of a broader set of initiatives aimed at enhancing the payment experience for foreign travelers.

These initiatives are pivotal in demonstrating China’s commitment to catering to the needs of international tourists and making their visits (and spending) more seamless and enjoyable.

4.     Enhancement of inbound tourism services

To ensure a memorable experience for foreign tourists, China is placing a strong emphasis on improving those services that specifically cater to international visitors. The measures list several examples of services which will be further streamlined, including (but not limited to) areas such as:

  • Ticket booking;
  • Transportation; and
  • Accomodation.

Moreover, there’s a commitment to enhancing foreign language support, with training programs for tour guides and service personnel. Multilingual signage and guidance facilities at tourist sites, airports, hotels, and shopping areas are also on the agenda.

5.     Optimization of departure tax refund services

The measures propose the optimization departure tax refund services to make the departure experience smoother and more rewarding for foreign tourists. As such, the government aims to encourage more businesses to become tax refund shops, thereby broadening the range of goods eligible for tax refunds.

6.     Leveraging tourism platforms

The measures highlight China’s active promotion of tourism trade platforms to facilitate international cooperation and business growth.

Domestic culture and tourism enterprises and organizations are encouraged to participate in various international cultural and tourism exhibitions. In addition, the government is keen on attracting foreign culture and tourism enterprises to invest in China. The construction of high-quality cultural trade bases, as mentioned in the measures, will serve as a service guarantee for such investments.

Inbound tourism revival plan is welcome, but challenges may temper immediate gains

China’s tourism revival plan, with a focus on attracting inbound travelers, could significantly boost the economy and consumption. Yet, it will not be without challenges. Streamlining visa and customs processes through digital visas aligns with global trends but implementation needs to minimize pain points. International flight resumption promises economic growth and cultural exchange, but immediate gains will be shaped by global externalities. Simplifying digital payments will need to be accompanied by strong cybersecurity.

Balancing opportunities and challenges in the evolving global context will be crucial for China’s tourism success. A rebound of the tourism sector is vital for post-COVID recovery, benefiting various allied sectors and fostering global engagement. China’s commitment to reinvigorate tourism is another way of reinforcing its move towards economic openness.

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