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Region urged to relax visa process

Updated: 2013-11-26 09:02
By Zhao Lei ( China Daily)

Tourism authorities in Central and Eastern European nations are urged to facilitate visa application procedures if they want to attract more Chinese travelers, insiders in the tourism industry said.

"Among the Central and Eastern European countries, the visa procedure at the Polish embassy and consulates is most convenient, and for other countries, I have to say that they have huge space for improvement," Rao Tian, general manager of European trips with China International Travel Service Head Office, told China Daily.

Though the number of Chinese tourists going to those nations keeps increasing, Rao suggested that tourism authorities there do more to remove obstacles in visa procedures.

His remarks were echoed by Diao Shuang, head of the Europe tourism center of China Youth Travel Service, who said some Central and Eastern European countries are in the Schengen Area, a group of countries that have abolished passport control at their common borders, so are very cautious about issuing visas to foreign citizens.

"Border control authorities in these nations have concerns that loosening the visa procedures will lead to an influx of stowaways," Diao said. "However, if they stick to their stringent procedures, it will discourage some Chinese tourists due to the long wait and complicated process."

Diao said he and other managers at China Youth Travel Service often call on tourism and diplomatic authorities in Central and Eastern European nations to relax their visa rules and provide travelers with more convenience.

In 2011, Chinese visitors made more than 74,000 trips to Central and Eastern Europe.

The number saw a slight increase of 4.6 percent in 2012, with about 78,300 trips by Chinese travelers.

From January to September this year, more than 69,000 trips were made to the region, statistics from the National Tourism Administration of China show.

Hungary is the most popular destination for Chinese visitors in the region, followed by Poland and the Czech Republic. A total of 51,000 trips were made by Chinese people to the three countries in 2012, accounting for more than 65 percent of the total trips to the region that year.

Diao said nearly 3,000 Chinese people took part in travel groups to Central and Eastern Europe organized by his company that departed from Beijing last year. Among them, about 2,000 were individual travelers.

Zhang Guangrui, director of the tourism research center with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said only a few Chinese people had visited countries in Central and Eastern Europe but most of the Chinese public hold a friendly attitude toward these countries.

"Many of my acquaintances who have traveled these nations told me that those places were much better and more beautiful than they had imagined," he said. "However, it is a pity that Chinese tourists are still being frustrated at going there because of the visa rules."

Zhang said difficulties in applying for visas have been deemed by tourism businesses around the world as one of the most prominent problems that restrain the sector's development.

In addition, a lack of knowledge about tourist destinations in those nations and insufficient publicity and promotion have also led to sluggish growth in the Chinese market for tourism operators from Central and Eastern Europe, according to Wu Bihu, an expert on tour planning at Peking University.

"Most Chinese people do not include Central and Eastern Europe in their must-go list because in their mind, traveling Europe means going to France, Italy, Germany or other Western or Northern European nations.

"The situation requires tourism businesses and authorities in Central and Eastern Europe to strengthen publicity in China, do more promotion and cooperate with airlines to open more flights to their countries," Wu suggested.

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