China’s visa-free policy spurs recovery

As ITB China revels in a 60% increase in scale from 2023, research points to effectiveness of visa exemption covering citizens of 12 countries

VISA-POLICY changes introduced by mainland China authorities have contributed to a renewed confidence within the country’s travel market, the ITB China trade show in Shanghai has heard.

Research findings presented by economist Aaron Goldring also attributed the recent visa-free policy for selected countries as providing “cautious optimism“ as China’s tourism industry recovers strongly from the pandemic downturn.   

Aaron Goldring

The visa-policy changes alongside targeted marketing campaigns and investment in tourism infrastructure, are expected to further drive China’s tourism recovery, said Goldring, a tourism specialist with Oxford Economics, during a keynote address on the second day of ITB China.  

At a Chinese-European Tourism Forum Panel to discuss the opportunities brought about by the visa-free policy, Goldring added that research showed how visitor numbers from countries granted visa-free status were reaching pre-pandemic levels.

On May 7, China extended its visa-free policy for short-term visits by citizens of 12 countries to the end of 2025. Citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Malaysia, Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, and Luxembourg who hold ordinary passports can enter and stay in China visa-free for up to 15 days for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit.

“Since the visa policy has been implemented we have seen a large increase in visitors from Europe in general. We are also seeing that in the flight-capacity numbers, which were holding back up to this point.” said Goldring. 

“We have seen Germany, for example, close to pre-pandemic levels. Italy has actually surpassed where they were previously, and a lot of that is down to the decision that China made to allow visa free.”

Norbert Fiebig

Norbert Fiebig, president of the German Travel Association told the forum it was essential for the industry that the Chinese authorities extend the visa-free status to a more permanent policy.

Show organisers Messe Berlin said the visa-free policy was among the factors behind both the travel industry’s rebound and the increased scale of ITB China this year.

“Since 2023, China’s travel market has been on a steady positive trajectory, and with the impact of improved visa policies and increased flight capacity, China’s travel market is showing strong signs of growth at the start of 2024,” said David Axiotis, Messe Berlin vice-president China.

Messe Berlin reported a 60 per cent increase in the size of the 2024 show compared to last November when the first edition since the easing of Covid restrictions in China was held. 

“The buyer market this year is buzzing with even stronger demand and a much larger number of participants compared to last year. ITB China supports our global partners in finding their Chinese counterparts and reaching new heights for their China travel business in the coming years,” Axiotis said.

More than 600 exhibitors from more than 80 countries and regions were at the 2024 show, held at Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Centre, May 27-29. Messe Berlin said 13 new destinations joined this year, while 1,000-plus buyers signed up.

More… Visa deals to boost Asia-China travel

ITB China 2024 adopted the theme “Thrive in Transformation, Reach New Heights. Together” to reflect the adaptability and innovation needed in the travel industry, in addition to tapping the huge potential of the Chinese travel market.

Maldives was ITB China 2024’s Partner Destination its showfloor pavilion 2.5 times larger than in 2023. The Maldives also co-hosted the show’s official opening dinner and held a press conference focusing on “Sustainability, Innovation, and Diversification.”

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