Beijing (Agencies): In a significant move to boost cross-border people-to-people exchanges and promote high-quality development and opening-up, China is set to implement a one-year visa-free policy for citizens from five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain – along with Malaysia. The policy, effective from December 1, 2023, is anticipated to facilitate various purposes, including business, sightseeing, family visits, and transit.

Under this landmark policy, residents from the aforementioned countries holding ordinary passports can enter China without a visa and stay for up to 15 days. The initiative is being hailed as one of the most substantial relaxations in the visa-free program in decades, with industry insiders predicting a surge in foreign tourists and entrepreneurs. This development is poised to play a pivotal role in the recovery of China’s inbound tourism market, which has been grappling to return to pre-COVID levels.

Germany’s ambassador to China, Patricia Flor, expressed approval of the decision, stating that German citizens would be able to enjoy a visa-free stay of up to 15 days in China starting in December. Xu Xiaolei, a marketing manager at CYTS Tours Holding Co in China, lauded the program as potentially one of the largest in decades and anticipated a significant boost to inbound tourism.

Tourism companies, airport authorities, and relevant stakeholders are urged to prepare for an influx of foreign tourists. CYTS Tours has already introduced inbound tourism products targeting the six countries, with a focus on the German and Netherlands markets leading the recovery.

While China’s outbound tourism market is rebounding swiftly, the inbound tourism sector has been slower to recover, reaching only 12 percent of the 2019 levels in the first half of 2023. The expansion of the visa-free policy aligns with China’s commitment to further opening-up, fostering foreign private investment and business visits, according to Dong Shaopeng, a senior research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies.

This move comes amid strengthened trade and economic relations between China and the European Union (EU) as well as China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The ASEAN and EU have been China’s largest and second-largest trading partners in the first 10 months of 2023. China also aims to enhance policies related to visas and the inbound tourism sector, including optimizing visa application procedures and gradually phasing out appointment requirements, as part of its commitment to continued improvements.

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