China / Cover Story

Simpler visa procedures for Chinese tourists

By Xin Dingding, Zheng Yangpeng and Shi Yingying (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-08 08:09

Charles Bennett, minister-counselor for consular affairs at the US Embassy, said earlier that 50 more American staff members would be deployed to the embassy and US consulates in China this year. More interview facilities will be built, and the embassy is considering streamlining the application process, allowing applicants to have their interviews as quickly as two days after applying.

In addition, some qualified travelers who previously were granted visas might be able to renew their visas without another interview, saving both time and money. The US hopes it will encourage these travelers to visit the US again, and meanwhile free resources to interview 100,000 more first-time Chinese travelers.

Bennett said the new policy will not loosen standards - "national security remains this administration's highest priority," the embassy's website says - but that the US expects to approve visas for nearly 90 percent of Chinese applicants this year.

Li of China International Travel said the company estimates an additional 80,000 to 100,000 tourist visas could be handled in Beijing and Shanghai combined this year.

What others do

Industry observers noted that the new US visa policy follows a global trend of adopting "Chinese-friendly" policies to boost tourism.

Japan, for instance, has relaxed its visa policy to Chinese tourists three times since 2009. Now, an applicant who lives in a big city and has a credit card can get a visa to Japan.

New Zealand last year reduced the number of documents it requires and raised the number of multiple-entry visas issued.

Spanish Tourism Minister Miguel Sebastian said at a business forum in Barcelona in July that Spain planned to ease visa requirements for Chinese nationals, encourage more direct flights between the two countries and open more tourist offices in China.

Germany, which like the US requires personal interviews of applicants, plans to simplify and speed its visa issuance this year, according to a Reuters report in December. However, the embassy told China Daily recently that no changes are expected soon.

Industry observers noted that all the new measures of developed countries stopped short of lowering the standards for issuing visas to mainland Chinese. However, policy changes do indicate that other countries are realizing the importance of the Chinese market, said Jiang Yiyi, director of China Tourism Academy's International Tourism Development Institute.

"We find that once a country relaxes its visa policy for Chinese tourists, it usually produces immediate results in the growth of visitor numbers."

After Japan eased its visa policy, she said, mainland tourists to Japan exceeded 1 million that year and reached 1.41 million the next.

The World Tourism Organization said global tourism grew 4.4 percent last year, but China's international travel increased 20 percent. Nearly 70 million mainlanders visited overseas destinations including Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan; about 20 million visited other foreign destinations.

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