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Beijing courting overseas tourists

Su Zhou
Updated: Dec 18,2014 7:23 AM     China Daily

Beijing is trying to improve the 72-hour visa-free entry policy for international transit passengers to attract more overseas visitors.

Proposals under discussion include extending the limit for transit passengers to 96 hours, and opening up visa-free entry to all foreign visitors.

Other moves that may be introduced to lure more visitors include having more direct flights to overseas destinations, and making changes to the tax system.

“We will apply for a duty-free policy in the city and the provision of tax refunds before departure,” said Song Yu, head of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development.

He said Beijing believes the measures would boost its struggling inbound tourism market.

“We will also promote tourist attractions and the new policies to the overseas market through visa application centers, embassies and tourist offices,” he added.

Beijing began offering visa-free entry to transit visitors from 45 countries and regions, including the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Canada, in January of last year. They can spend up to 72 hours in the city after flying in, providing they have third-country visas and onward tickets.

Nearly 40,000 visitors had used the service as of Dec 16. The 2014 total is expected to exceed 20,000, according to Beijing Capital International Airport.

The tourists using the service account for 1 percent of the total number of overseas visitors to Beijing, and the majority come from the US and Russia.

Gao Lijia, a deputy manager at the airport, said: “To make this work, we need more direct flights and more resources to promote the policy overseas.

“Only 22 destinations have direct flights to China, and this has affected the popularity of the policy. We would like to extend the length of time to 96 hours or even longer.

“We have asked the Beijing municipal government many times to make Beijing a more open city by extending the length of time and even expanding the scope of the visa-free policy to all international visitors.”

Lyu Ming, an official at the Ministry of Public Security’s Bureau of Exit and Entry Administration, said: “Adjusting the 72-hour visa-free entry policy would be very complicated. If we expand it to all overseas visitors, the whole thing becomes different.

“It is very difficult to trace visitors if they can stay in China for 72 hours without a visa.”

Wei Xiao’an, an economics expert at the China Tourism Academy, said visa-free entry has not boosted the number of inbound tourists as much as was expected. “If Beijing really wants to loosen restrictions on overseas visitors, it should adopt visa-upon-arrival or even a completely visa-free policy.”