Foreign tourists drawn to SW metropolis by visa-free policies

oasting rich and unique tourism resources, Sichuan is home to giant pandas, stunning natural landscapes, a long and storied history, and vibrant ethnic customs.[Photo/Xinhua]

On his recent visit to Chengdu, the capital city of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, Estonian tourist Sergei Gruzin found himself deeply impressed by the rich culture, gourmet food and the friendliness of the people, vowing to return for another trip in the future.

During his stay, Gruzin visited the giant pandas, savored local noodle dishes and used mobile phone apps to pay for taxis and hotels. “I found Alipay very convenient for transportation and accommodation,” he told Xinhua at Chengdu Tianfu International Airport.

Since China introduced a series of favorable visa-free policies last year, the airport has been bustling with foreign travelers, while the number of international tourists visiting Chengdu has also surged, despite its location in the country’s southwestern inland region.

As of May this year, China has reached agreements or arrangements to simplify visa procedures with over 40 countries and achieved comprehensive mutual visa exemption with more than 20 countries.

Official data shows that, the number of foreigners visiting China in the first quarter of this year increased more than threefold compared to the same period last year. A total of 466,000 visas were issued to foreigners, up 118.8 percent year-on-year. Additionally, nearly 1.99 million foreigners entered China visa-free, a year-on-year increase of 266.1 percent.

In the latest update to its visa policies, China has announced that New Zealand and Australia will be included in its list of unilateral visa-free countries. This means that New Zealand and Australian passport holders will be able to enter China without a visa for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit, for up to 15 days.

Zheng Jun, general manager of Sichuan Comfort International Travel Service Co., Ltd., said that as of June 10, the company had received 7,864 inbound visitors this year, a 289.69 percent increase on the same period in 2023.

“The number of tourists from visa-free countries or those eligible for group landing visas has significantly increased. This includes visitors from countries such as France, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and the Republic of Korea,” Zheng explained.

Boasting rich and unique tourism resources, Sichuan is home to giant pandas, stunning natural landscapes, a long and storied history, and vibrant ethnic customs. These attributes make it a renowned destination for tourists both in China and abroad. To ensure utmost convenience for international visitors, the province has enhanced its airports, scenic spots, and other facilities with a range of services.

Cui Lei, deputy manager of the terminal management center at the airport, said that customs and security inspection procedures have been streamlined for foreign tourists.

Online platforms now provide 24-hour services for SIM cards, currency exchange, ATM withdrawals and mobile payments, according to Lin Ning, an airport official.

Additionally, all shops within the terminals support various payment methods, including cash, bank cards and mobile payments, ensuring that foreign visitors can make purchases without any hassle from the moment they arrive in Sichuan, Lin added.

At the Kuanzhai Alley, an iconic tourist attraction and historic neighborhood in Chengdu, and the Chengdu Jinsha Site Museum, another popular tourist spot, the availability of convenient and diverse payment methods has greatly improved the consumption experience for foreign tourists.

The museum’s visitor service center, relic hall, exhibition hall and online service platform provide multilingual guide services.

“Implementing visa-free policies is an important step in promoting openness and exchange,” said Liu Jun, a professor at the tourism school of Sichuan University.

“In addition to providing various convenient services, Chinese tourist cities like Chengdu need to resume and strengthen overseas tourism marketing. This includes introducing foreign tourists to new consumption scenes, emerging business models and new products that have emerged in recent years,” Lin added.

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