An increasing number of European countries are altering their visa-application procedures to draw in tourists from China.
In 2012, China became the largest tourism source market in the world. Last year alone, Chinese tourists spent $129 billion on foreign travel. By 2027, the country is expected to to have exceeded the United States as the world’s biggest travel and tourism economy.
The boom is encouraging countries all over the world to make travel easier for tourists from China. According to Dai Yu, marketing director of the Tourism Department of the online travel service provider Ctrip, 49 countries and regions across the globe now have visa-free or “visa-on-arrival policies” for Chinese travelers.
“Now Chinese tourists have a wider range of choices than before, so if they can have a great vacation in a country that doesn’t require a visa at all, they won’t bother to choose one where it takes days to obtain a permit,” Dai tells China Daily.
A recent report from the World Tourism Cities Federation and Ipsos lends credence to Dai’s claim. It lists “time-consuming application procedures, the strict requirements for obtaining visas, and exorbitant fees” as the top three visa-related issues outbound tourists from China face.
Countries are now working to minimize these obstacles by making it easier to obtain visas, reducing required documentation, speeding up the procedure, opening more application centers, and providing regular visitors with longer term multi-entry visas.
Many European countries are adopting new policies to better accommodate Chinese tourists. When Premier Li Keqiang visited Germany in October, Berlin announced that it would shorten the visa-application process from its present duration of at least three to five working days to just 48 hours. It will also open more visa-application centers in inland China to better cater to visitors from the region.
Germany also recently waived the personal interview requirement for visa applications, according to Li Nan, visa services manager with German Industry and Commerce Greater China.
“I remember that there was a sharp rise in the number of Chinese applicants to Germany right after the country waived personal interviews at the embassy,” she said.
France has also adopted a 48-hour application process; in Italy, the service is just 36 hours. The United Kingdom has gone even farther with the introduction of a “super priority” visa service in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai which takes only 24 hours.
According to Charles Bennett, minister-counselor for consular affairs at the United States embassy in Beijing, the embassy has been working on making visa applications “simpler, more efficient, and less expensive.” Most applications are now processed within five working days.
Canada is also taking steps to draw in more visitors from China. Earlier this year, the Canada Tourism Bureau upgraded single-entry visas to multi-entry ones, which will “allow eligible visitors to stay in Canada for as long as six months per trip,” according to a spokesperson. The country also extended visa validity to a maximum of 10 years.
Asian countries are instituting preferential policies for Chinese tourists as well. From August to October, Thailand waived visa fees for tourists from both Taiwan and mainland China. Such moves provide further evidence that China holds great market potential, according to Dou Qun, a tourism industry professor at Beijing Union University.
“The overseas tourism market still needs time to recover from the financial crisis,” Dou explained. “The Chinese market is huge and has great potential. Every country has its eye on China.”
image credit: flickr/chinese tourists