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

Breathless, see-everything-famous trips were well suited for Chinese who might visit the US only once, especially in an immature market. Now, agencies are offering wider selections of travel options in light of planned improvements to the US visa application process in China and the expected leap in Chinese visitors to the US.

China International Travel Service, one of the largest agencies in Beijing, has begun selling more focused tours. They include shopping trips to both luxury stores in Beverly Hills and large outlets on the East Coast, and themed tours, such as one to national memorials and parks including Mount Rushmore.

Online travel service said it will work to develop more US-bound group offerings this year. It plans to introduce new tours to Seattle and Florida.

However, Fei Lina from Shanghai Jinjiang International Travel said January and February are a low season for US trips, so it is not a good time to test US President Barack Obama's promise of a shortened and simplified visa procedure.

"Some say we need to wait until the second half of this year to see the real impact of the policy, and I think we need to wait until 2013 at least," she said.

Some agencies worry that expensive US-bound airfare and the lack of local tour guides could make tours to Europe or to islands such as Bali and Maldives during off-seasons appear more cost-effective.

Ge Jingwen, who works at SAL Tour in Shanghai, said, "It's never an easy thing to grab cheap US tickets. For example, you can get a 3,000 yuan ($475) flight to Europe when there's a discount, but any destination in the US costs you at least 5,000 to 6,000 yuan."

Li Meng with China International said that if the number of China-US flights does not increase, the prices of tickets will rise with demand. That would push up the prices of US-bound tour packages as well.

School also a draw

The US is attractive to Chinese students and their parents, not just tourists. The Institute of International Education reported that the number of Chinese studying abroad increased 23 percent last year, but those working toward undergraduate degrees in the US rose 43 percent.

EIC Group, an overseas study consultancy, said the appreciation of the renminbi against the dollar made their tuition and living expenses cheaper.

Li Nannan, a consultant with New Oriental education group, said a bachelor's degree in the US now costs at least 1.5 million yuan ($238,000) and a master's degree at least 1 million yuan.

Different from the past, when many Chinese students relied on scholarships, "an overwhelming majority of Chinese parents now pay for the tuition and living expenditure," she said.

That, and the fact foreign students generally pay much higher tuition than in-state students, makes these students welcome as income generators for US colleges and universities.

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