January 10, 2024
BEIJING – As the global tourism industry continues to woo Chinese travelers, China is reciprocating the gesture of goodwill by offering more friendly visa policies to attract overseas visitors and reignite inbound tourism, making it a strong driver for economic development.
Last week, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced that Thailand will permanently waive visa requirements for Chinese visitors starting on March 1. The Southeast Asian country had previously granted a temporary visa waiver for visitors from China, which is set to expire on Feb 29.
Soon after the announcement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the mutual exemption of visas between China and Thailand will serve the fundamental interest of both peoples once implemented.
Related government departments are in close communication on the matter, and China is looking forward to the early implementation of the policy, he said at a regular news conference last week.
This is not the first time China has made a friendly gesture to attract international travelers. The nation resumed visa-free entry for visitors from Singapore holding ordinary passports on July 26, after its suspension in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Dec 1, China started allowing visitors from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia to enter the country without a visa. A total of 214,000 visits from these six nations were recorded as of Dec 31, up 28.5 percent compared with the previous month, according to the National Immigration Administration.
Among these visits, 118,000 individuals entered China visa-free using ordinary passports, accounting for 55.1 percent of the total trips made by individuals from the six countries during the same period, data from the administration showed.
Yang Jinsong, director of the International Institute at the China Tourism Academy, said that China’s visa-free policy has demonstrated its well-intentioned attitude toward international travelers, and has also given tourism operators a confidence boost.
“The inbound tourism market will recover to the level of 2019… or even better than 2019. The visa-free policy is a boost, and we have to improve our services and market regulations to guarantee safe and happy experiences for international travelers coming to China,” Yang added.
After Thailand upgraded its visa policy for Chinese visitors, searches and bookings for various destinations in that country surged on travel portals.
Online travel agency LY.com said that searches for tour services to Thailand made by its users increased 158 percent within half an hour of the announcement on Jan 2, compared with the same time the previous day.
Yang said that Thailand’s move showed its “great determination to win back Chinese travelers”, as its previous efforts fell short of the expectations.
Although Thailand is recognized as one of the top choices for Chinese travelers, the country has had to redouble its efforts in the face of stiff competition from other Southeast Asian nations, such as Singapore and Indonesia, which offered friendly visa policies to Chinese visitors last year, he said.
Chinese visitors are an irreplaceable source of tourism revenue for Thailand and many other countries, industry insiders said.
According to Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the country received 3.35 million Chinese travelers as of Dec 20, and the total number for the whole of 2023 is expected to reach 3.5 million.
Fan Dongxiao, travel portal Tuniu’s director of short-distance outbound travels, said they expect a surge in visits to Thailand during the Chinese winter holiday period, and “are confident of the performance of outbound tourism market to Thailand once the visa-free policy is implemented”.