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China increases efforts to bring back foreigners visitors to China

Given the size and economic importance of China and the huge number of Chinese living overseas with foreign nationalities, the 98 million border entries and exits by foreign nationals recorded in 2019 have not been very impressive. However, in 2023 this number went down to just 35.5 million or just a little more than a third of the 2019 level, according to data from the National Immigration Administration. Meanwhile, the number of foreign nationals stands at 85% of the level it was at the end of 2019, with especially many expats from Western countries no longer residing in China.

China has undertaken a number of measures to lure back foreign tourists and visitors for economic and political reasons. Unilateral visa-free entry has been granted to a number of especially European countries, procedures for other countries like the USA have been simplified. A list of these measures can be found in this weeks Facts & Views. Since August 2023 no more CoViD-19 related policies are in place and the need for providing fingerprints has been cancelled for a number of source markets in recent months.

This week, WeChat and Alipay, China’s two biggest payment apps, simplified the way foreigners can link their credit cards to the system, after enabling them to do so at all last summer in an important step to help foreigners to survive as a visitor in this near-cashless country.

This week also the annual gathering of everybody who is anybody in global tourism, ITB BERLIN 2024, took place for the first time free from CoViD restrictions, but hampered by strikes of German train drivers and German airport staff. 

The Chinese exhibitors were back and the traditional “ITB China Night” took place again. On the first day of the fair, WTCF World Tourism Cities Federation, organized again a China-related panel as part of the ITB 2024 Convention.

The session started with greetings from the Chinese Embassy and from the Beijing Municipal Tourism and Culture Bureau. In accordance to the new policies, both speakers concentrated more on the inbound tourism to China than on the outbound tourism, which in previous years has always been the clear focus of discussion and still is the main interest of the audience. They introduced in detail the “Ni Hao China” (not the most creative wording and a no-go for Search Engine Optimisation) program which includes a number of benefits for visitors. 

The panel discussion itself which followed was chaired by Richard Matuzevich, Senior Manager and “foreign minister” of WTCF. The panel was made up by Ralf Ostendorf, “Mr. China” of VisitBerlin, Philip Dickinson, head of both the International Markets department and the MICE department for Qatar Tourism, Alan Song, one of the key managers of CYTS International Travel Co. Ltd. (the company who also sponsored the China Night) and the author of this text, representing of course COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute. COTRI used the ITB Berlin 2024 also to announce the restart of the CTT China Tourism Training program, which is offered online trainings in 26 different languages thanks to the use of AI technology.

All panelists agreed that the future is uncertain but bright and that China will be the No. 1 outbound tourism source market again within a short period of time. However, also the panel discussion did include questions about the inbound tourism sector and what could be done to stop the massive fall of arrival numbers in China.

However, for inbound tourism new efforts and new products are needed. China is still concentrating on first time visitors, marketing Gugong, Changcheng and Xiongmao (Wall/Palace/Panda). China has much more to offer and needs to develop sustainable tourism forms catering for different interest groups, including visits to National Parks and other nature-based activities, offering cooking classes, and special interest trips for people interested in both traditional and current architecture, philosophy, art etc.

Global tourism is moving from quantity to quality, 2027 has been declared by the United Nations as the Year of sustainable and resilient tourism. China should not be too far behind in this change. Sustainable and meaningful tourism products are demanded by many international travellers, organising more trainings and conferences for the Chinese tourism industry in this field is necessary.