Doubling of visa-free stays seen as catalyst for growth

Influx of visitors to Beijing and neighboring regions expected to boost consumer spending

An expanded visa-free stay policy is expected to boost the integrated growth of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, government officials said.

The new policy, announced on Dec 28, allows visitors from 53 countries to stay for up to six days in the three provincial locales, after their entry from any of six designated transport hubs.

The entry points are Beijing Capital International Airport and Beijing West Railway Station in the capital, together with Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport and Qinhuangdao Port in Hebei province, Tianjin Binhai International Airport, and Tianjin International Cruise Home Port.

The points of entry will have access to the widespread transportation network in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, covering air routes, waterways and rail lines.

Carrying travel identification and reserved tickets with a fixed date to a third country or region within 144 hours, foreign nationals from the 53 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia and Singapore, are eligible for the waiver.

The visa-free stay will help streamline the transfer procedures for flights, sea transportation or railway services and increase the inflows of international travelers, said Zhu Lei, deputy director of the Port Office of the Beijing government.

Beijing and Tianjin previously allowed a 72-hour visa-free stay. Since it came into effect in Beijing in January 2013, Beijing Capital International Airport had received more than 80,000 applications for the visa-free stay by the end of 2016, according to the airport.

In Beijing alone, more than 26,300 travelers benefited from the waiver in 2016, a 32.2 percent increase from the previous year, government data show.

Despite the popularity of the 72-hour waiver, Zhu cited a survey saying that 40 percent of foreign respondents found that 72 hours was too short a period to meet their needs for an in-depth experience of local culture or short-term business activities.

The 144-hour policy, allowing for an extended stay in more areas, was approved by the State Council, China's Cabinet, in January 2017.

The decision is expected to boost various sectors including tourism, commerce, and international exhibitions and conferences. It is seen as a spur to consumption and will facilitate coordination and cooperation in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Zhu noted.

Beijing was named a pilot city for expanding the opening-up of the services industry in May 2015, the first of its kind in the country.

Zhu said the 144-hour visa-free policy would be a boon to the increased opening-up and further reform of the sector.

He added that it would help the city keep itself in line with international standards and global common practices and attract more foreign professionals, thus boosting the industry in the region.

Beijing has been positioned as a national political and cultural center and a hub for international exchanges and technological innovation, according to the city's development blueprint for 2016-35.

Zhu said the waiver will bring in an influx of inbound travelers, either for business or leisure purpose or on a visit to their friends or family members, which will prompt Beijing to improve its services and increase its international influence.

Flourishing tourism and events will bring about growing spending on accommodation, hospitality and entertainment, spurring consumption by tourists in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, he added.

Zhu said the move was also conducive to developing an advanced, highly efficient international transportation network in the region, which is key to a world-class urban cluster.

Wang Changyi, director of development planning for the Civil Aviation Administration of China, told a news conference on Dec 18 that the 144-hour visa-free policy is of great significance to the integrated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei.

To advance the implementation of the policy, airlines have cooperated with airports to launch related products, offering more travel options, Wang said.

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