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Chinese facing up to online visa services

By Wang Ying in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-02 06:52

Chinese facing up to online visa services

Chinese tourists pose for photos near rocks at the Hon Chong scenic site in Nha Trang, Vietnam. With a total of 2.7 million tourists last year, China is Vietnam's largest source of tourists, with most Chinese mainland visitors heading to the coastal cities of Da Nang or Nha Trang, which are in the center of the country and are famed for their beaches, historical sites and seafood. Linh Pham / Getty Images

Online application services offered by travel platforms are aimed at the large outbound traveling market

More and more Chinese tourists are completing their visa applications using mobile terminals, and going outdoors to take visa photos has become history among the new generation of Chinese outbound tourists, said a market insider.

Each year, as many as 1 million people have used the online visa application service offered by Ctrip, China's largest online travel platform, since its launch in July 2015, according to Huang Qing, head of Ctrip's visa business division.

Through its online service, customers can fill in application forms online, submit ID photos, hand in scanned versions of their marriage certificate, ID card, passport and confirm all the materials are correct and accurate before they are submitted.

"This has saved a lot of communication time for our clients. Before, only half of the application materials were valid during their first submission, and it took two or three times on average for offline visa applications," Huang said.

The online visa service is a blessing for internet-savvy tourists, who are tired of the complex and outdated offline process.

According to Huang, Ctrip decided to make a foray into online visa applications after a two-month survey among its customers in early 2015.

To date, the online travel platform can help tourists apply for visas in 84 countries' embassies and consulates in China, and it also offers visa application reservations to 125 nations and regions.

The internet process also shortens the time needed to complete the application as well as reducing expenses on transportation and paper printing.

"More than 60 percent of Ctrip's online tourism customers applied for their visas on smartphones, and 75 percent of their visa photos are selfies," Huang said.

Chinese facing up to online visa services

Li Shaohua, CEO of Alitrip, demonstrates process of the company's online visa center service, on Oct 28. Through its online service, customers can fill in application forms online, submit ID photos, hand in scanned versions of their marriage certificate, ID card, passport and confirm all the materials are correct and accurate before they are submitted. Provided to China Daily

Becoming a new force in overseas traveling, Chinese tourists have to spend a lot of time and energy on visa material preparations according to the different requirements of destinations.

"After two years' of preparation, Alitrip, the travel unit of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, announced the launch of its online visa center service on Oct 28," said Zhou Zheng, vice-president of Alitrip.

"We offer online services such as optical character recognition, online visa photographs, process tracking and material pickup," Zhou said.

As many as 28 million outbound trips were made through Alitrip's platforms throughout 2016.

According to Zhou, Alitrip's goal is to have material submissions, visa application, as well as embassy audits all available online.

To attract Chinese tourists, many embassies and consulates are looking to simplify the visa application process and audition procedures with the support of technology companies, which can also attract customers by enhancing the overall service, Yang Yanfeng, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying by Beijing News.

"Electronic visas are becoming popular. In some circumstances, a smartphone can apply for and receive the visa in seconds," said Huang.

With the resources of Alibaba Group, Alitrip will be able to automatically fill in the basic information of its customers according to his or her history, and even provide financial records and documents to ease the material collecting process from a couple of days to half an hour in the future, Zhou said.

Outbound market

Online visa application services offered by travel platforms are aimed at the large outbound traveling market from China. As many as 122 million trips were made to overseas destinations throughout 2016, spending a total of $109.8 billion, an annual report on Chinese overseas tourism by China Tourism Academy showed.

From January to June, 62 million trips were made to destinations outside China, up 5.4 percent year-on-year, and the whole year growth rate is expected to reach 6 percent, Xu Yi, an analyst from Guolian Securities, wrote.

Xu expected the Chinese outbound tourism market to maintain robust growth as less than 10 percent of the Chinese population holds a passport.

A modern visa service is regarded as an important step to win customers; in addition, the data collected through the service will enable platforms to come up with more tailor-made products for target customers, said analysts.

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