China / Hot Issues

An open door is much more inviting

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-03 08:16

If I'd never visited China, I'd be more likely to now than ever.

Because it's easier than ever.

While dozens of cities started offering 72-hour visa-free visits to third-country transit travelers in recent years, the Yangtze River Delta enacted a 144-hour visa-free policy on Saturday - a week before Spring Festival.

This enables journeys through Shanghai, and Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

The implications are huge.

An open door is much more inviting

The vastest visa relaxation since New China's founding means you can cover vaster-than-ever chunks of territory without a visa.

"The land of fish and rice" - China's "land of milk and honey" - awaits.

Unlike under the 72-hour policies (which Shanghai and the two provinces' capitals adopted in 2013), they can get outside cities to see the mountain terraces they've long daydreamed of.

Real China.

Foreign visits to the region are sure to surge.

The news arrived as the country continues to lament an inbound-travel industry that has declined for years, while tourism props up a tenth of GDP.

During the period, China's outbound-travel has ranked among the global tourism industry's grandest triumphs. A primary propellant has been countries easing entry for Chinese.

While the gist is obvious, many foreign tourism authorities seem startled by the impact of easing Chinese entry.

Numbers blasted beyond forecasts.

One night last year, a Chinese friend asked to use our credit card to book a Palau trip for the following day - hours before she left.

It was the same week the country started considering halving flights from China to curb tourism influxes that could exceed native populations at certain times.

It was an impulse booking. Palau doesn't require Chinese to have visas.

China can learn from this - and try something similar in reverse.

Its tourism authorities should examine the outbound market to realize how visa relaxations can shape the inbound market.

That is, realizing visas' powerful hand in scripting itineraries.

Perhaps that's part of the intent behind Saturday's change.

Surely, it gives vim to the delta's allure.

While it's a step - arguably a leap - in the right direction, its greatest stumbling block may prove the transit requirement.

It forces foreigners from the 51 qualifying countries to spend more time and money to travel elsewhere before heading home.

Or to skip China entirely.

Go somewhere easier. Cheaper.

Some of our family's recent visitors from the US have repeated visits, citing the 10-year multiple-entry visa as a chief incentive.

Others from other countries, such as Swedish relatives, canceled, citing smog.

Pollution obscures China's offerings in every sense.

While the Swedish visitors canceled their trip because of asthma, our most recent US guest - a multimedia expert - lamented he couldn't shoot most sites through Beijing's haze.

That said, he explained that means he'll have to return to finish his Beijing in Motion series.

He plans to. Mostly since he already has the 10-year multiple-entry visa.

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