In an attempt to attract more Chinese visitors to the historic attractions—and luxury boutiques—of Rome, Florence, and Milan, Italy has joined a growing chorus of countries quickly rolling back visa restrictions for China’s moneyed travelers.
Until now, Chinese applicants for Italian visas had to apply at the consulate general assigned to the location of their household registration (hukou) or temporary residence permit. Last week, the Italian Embassy announced that as of April 14, Chinese citizens may apply at the consulate closest to their place of residence, which is often different from their hukou registration. The new ease of access means that applicants will no longer need to make an inconvenient trip to their place of residence to apply if they work in another city. The Italian consulate in Guangzhou also announced last month that it would begin fast-tracking visa applications, prompting China Southern Airlines to begin discussions with Italy to create direct flights from Guangzhou to Rome.
The new policies follow a global trend in which countries all over the world are rushing to break down visa barriers for China’s high-spending tourists. According to China’s Ministry of Public Security, about 45 countries and regions introduced visa exemption or visa-on-arrival policies for Chinese travelers in 2013.
Other European countries and the UK have been active participants. The European Union is currently discussing ways to change its visa rules for Chinese visas, while the UK announced its plans to relax restrictions last October. The UK’s visa application center in Shanghai announced last week that it will offer a new 24-hour visa service starting this summer.
When it comes to European countries and the UK, luxury brands and retailers have been at the vanguard of the push to ease restrictions. Chinese travelers are known for their strong penchant for buying European luxury goods in a brand’s home country to avoid massive tariffs on the mainland. In the UK, companies like Harrods, Burberry, and Mulberry are members of the UK China Visa Alliance, which has been vocal about the need to lower visa restrictions for Chinese visitors.
Italian luxury brands will welcome this development as well. Both Prada and Gucci recently reported slowing China growth as GDP growth declines and the anti-corruption crackdown continues. With more Chinese tourists visiting the country, brands like Ferragamo, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana will have greater opportunity to compete on their home turf for the attention of wealthy Chinese tourists. According to a 2013 report by China Confidential, Italy is the top foreign country for Chinese tourist spending on luxury items, even though France receives more visitors.