China extends visa-free entry to two more European countries in a bid to boost tourism

Tourists on bamboo rafts tour the Jiuqu river at a Wuyi mountain scenic area in southeast China's Fujian Province on 3 October 2023.
Tourists on bamboo rafts tour the Jiuqu river at a Wuyi mountain scenic area in southeast China's Fujian Province on 3 October 2023. Copyright Chen Ying/Xinhua via AP
By Angela Symons with AP
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China has extended visa-free entry to two more European countries.

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In December, China brought in visa-free entry for citizens of five European countries and Malaysia. 

Now, two more European nations have been added to the list as the country tries to encourage more people to visit for business and tourism.

Along with citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia, Irish and Swiss nationals will now be allowed to enter China without a visa. The announcement was made during Chinese Premier Li Qiang's visit to Europe to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos this week.

The aim is “to facilitate the high-quality development of Chinese and foreign personnel exchanges and high-level opening up to the outside world,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a briefing on the initial announcement made in November.

Visa-free entry will be granted for up to 15 days in the trial program, which will be in effect for one year.

International travel to China is yet to bounce back

China's strict pandemic measures, which included required quarantines for all arrivals, discouraged many people from visiting for nearly three years. The restrictions were lifted early last year, but international travel has yet to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.

China previously allowed citizens of Brunei, Japan and Singapore to enter without a visa but suspended that after the COVID-19 outbreak. It resumed visa-free entry for Brunei and Singapore in July but has not done so for Japan.

In 2023, China recorded 35.5 million entries and exits by foreigners, according to immigration statistics. That compares to 97.7 million for all of 2019, the last year before the pandemic.

The government has been seeking foreign investment to help boost a sluggish economy, and some businesspeople have been coming for trade fairs and meetings, including Tesla's Elon Musk and Apple's Tim Cook. Foreign tourists are still a rare sight compared to before the pandemic.

How else is China simplifying travel for Europeans?

Last year saw a surge in interest in China as a tourist destination among Europeans. 

Data from online travel agency Trip.com showed a 663 per cent increase in overall bookings from Europe to China compared to 2022, and an almost 29 per cent increase on 2019.

The United Kingdom and Germany were among the top 10 sources of inbound travellers to China globally, the data shows. 

Shanghai remains the most popular destination among Europeans with its alluring blend of modernity and tradition, followed by Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Sanya, a beachside city on the southern end of China’s Hainan Island, and Chengdu - the capital of southwestern China's Sichuan province - are emerging destinations. 

Beyond it's new visa-free schemes, the country is further encouraging inbound tourism by promoting cultural and historical attractions in partnership with Trip.com. China is also enhancing tourism infrastructure by investing in technology, travel guides and e-payment systems.

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