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Why are foreign tourists heading to China now?

Tourists visit the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, capital of China, May 2, 2024. (Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)

By Zhang Qian

When Josie from Australia first came to Shanghai, she captured many heartwarming moments she came across through lens. When the Wynns from the United States toured southwest China's Yunnan Province, they marveled that it might be the most beautiful place they had ever beheld. 

Recently, more and more foreign tourists are flocking to China. Popular tourist attractions in the country such as Shanghai Disneyland Resort and Oriental Pearl Tower are swarming with international tourists.

A series of data highlighted the growing popularity of China as a tourist destination among international travelers. 

During the first quarter of 2024, inbound trips by foreign nationals reached 13.1 million, a year-on-year increase of 305.2 percent, said the National Immigration Administration of China. Some travel platforms reported that inbound tourism bookings during the May Day holiday soared by over 100 percent year-on-year. 

Behind the increasing number of inbound tourists are China's efforts in expanding its visa-free "circle of friends" and creating more favorable conditions to cater to the needs of international travelers. 

An increasing number of countries have been added to China's visa exemption list. In November 2023, China initiated a unilateral visa-free policy for ordinary passport holders from six countries; In March this year, six additional European countries were included. 

In late January, China and Thailand signed an agreement on mutual visa exemption which came effect on March 1. More recently in May, China decided to extend visa exemption entry for citizens from 12 countries on short-term visits to China until the end of 2025. 

The visa-free policy has encouraged a greater flow of people between China and the world. For example, according to the Geneva office of Air China, a total of 6,364 passengers traveled between Geneva and Beijing in March 2024 following the visa exemption, up 374.9 percent from a year earlier. 

Meanwhile, China is making continuous efforts to enhance convenience for foreign friends. 

In January, China implemented a set of measures to facilitate the entry of foreign nationals into China for business, education and tourism, including a relaxation of port visa application requirements. 

China has also taken intensive steps to smooth payments for foreign travelers. In March, China released a guideline to optimize payment services of bank cards, promoting cash use and facilitating mobile payment. 

In major payment service providers such as Alipay and WeChat Pay, foreign users can link their international credit cards, including Visa and Mastercard, to these platforms. More payment facilities, together with guides and instructions, have been added in scenic spots, shops, metro stations and hotels, greatly assisting foreigners with payment issues. 

The visa-free policy and preferential measures serve as an impetus for foreign travelers to embark on exploratory journeys throughout China and experience the land at first hand. Many of them share their travel Vlogs in China on social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, offering fresh perspectives for the world to discover a hospitable China. 

Steve and Ivana, Canadian travel bloggers, were quite nervous about their trip to China at first, as they had been exposed to some negative information about China. However, the couple completely let go of their concerns after a six-day visit to Shanghai. They continued their trip in more cities in China, and posted their travel Vlogs on YouTube, capturing nearly 6 million views. 

Having been informed of some stereotypes about China before, Stefano Mirabella from Italy also derived new perceptions of the country from the latest trip. "Everyone greeted me with smiles and was willing to help me whenever I faced difficulties. I am looking forward to visiting China again," said Mirabella.