Surge in foreign tourist arrivals a positive trend

Foreign tourists walk around on Wednesday near the Palace Museum in the Chinese capital, Beijing. CHINA DAILY

Since China announced a variety of policies and plans including offering visa-free travel for citizens of a dozen or so countries and increasing international flights to attract more foreign tourists to the country, there has been clear evidence that the measures are bearing fruit. While it is true that the huge number of domestic tourists is the more exciting and dramatic story, the number of inbound foreign tourists, too, is increasing. With China Tourism Day to be observed on May 19, let’s analyze some of the trends and good news.

In the first quarter of this year, the number of foreigners visiting China increased by more than three times compared with the same period in 2023, with a total of 466,000 foreign visas issued, marking a 118.8 percent year-on-year increase.

Travelers to China who take some time out to seek the right information will realize that the politically driven negative narratives about China coming out of certain countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are simply untrue. This will make it easier for them to explore this fascinating country, its people, history and culture.

China has streamlined its visa application procedure, and has been increasing flights and promoting people-to-people exchanges. In fact, the topic of international tourism is so important that it was discussed by the Chinese and US presidents, too, during their meeting in San Francisco in November last year. Cultural exchanges and communication are part of the international interactions we all need and wish to enjoy despite political differences.

The Chinese government and other supportive voices have to work harder to debunk the disinformation propaganda which is making foreign tourists unnecessarily wary about visiting China. For example, some Western media and scholars claim that the Chinese government’s tightening grip on societal regulations could potentially cause discomfort for foreign travelers in China. But there is no credible basis for such negative propaganda.

As a foreigner living in China for 25 years, I can assure overseas travelers that there is no ominous “tightening grip on societal regulations” to spoil their stay. In fact, most foreigners living in China find they have more freedom, stability and safety in their daily lives in China than they had or would have back in their home country.

There is also the persistent rumor that foreigners can’t use China’s mobile app payment systems, but the truth is that these concerns have been addressed. My brother, a US citizen, visited China for the first time earlier this month and easily set up a universally accepted and convenient Alipay account with his foreign debit/credit card.

This year has seen a big increase in foreign tourists to China thanks to the expanded 144-hour visa-free transit policy, along with the 15-day visa-free entry policy for citizens of more countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia. In the first quarter of this year, the number of visa-free entries by foreign nationals reached 1,988,000, marking a 266.1 percent year-on-year increase.

The cities of Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province, Sanya on the island province of Hainan, along with Chengdu in Sichuan province, are among the favorite destinations of foreign visitors. Across these popular cities, and many other destinations, the cultural and historical attractions serve well to stimulate cultural and other exchanges, and help boost China’s growth.

Foreign tourist arrivals are expected to rise further this year, according to the latest UN World Trade Organization Tourism Confidence Index Survey, and this trend is likely to continue because of China’s continued efforts to make foreigners’ travel experience more convenient.

A related piece of information is well worth mentioning here: the number of foreign nationals living in China has reached 85 percent of the pre-pandemic level. More foreigners living in China means more foreign friends and family members coming to visit them.

Another trend to note is the increase in the number of vloggers traveling to China and their increasing contribution to the tourism industry, by posting videos of their adventures in the country on social media platforms around the world.

It’s good to know that a large number of foreign visitors have been marveling at how safe China is no matter which part of the country they are in. Unlike many other countries where crime and instability are a big concern, China is now the safest, and most stable, successful and capable country in the world, a destination to appreciate, enjoy and remember for the rest of your life.

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