China’s foreign tourism soars 305% in Q1

    Visa-free policy, improved payment systems attract visitors as luxury brands signal confidence in market recovery.
    Image: Weibo
      Published   in Travel

    China is welcoming growing numbers of foreign tourists, thanks in large part to supportive government policies.

    The country yesterday announced that foreign visitors traveling by international cruises can stay in the country for up to 15 days. Visitors are allowed to travel to any coastline province or Beijing during their stay.

    Foreigners traveling in tour groups comprising at least two people can enter China visa-free via the country’s 13 cruise ports, which include Hainan island’s Sanya.

    In late November 2023, China’s foreign ministry announced an expansion of the two-week visa-free entry policy to travelers from France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Spain, and the Netherlands.

    Tourism turnaround#

    According to data provided by Ctrip, bookings for inbound travel during the May Day holiday surged by 130 YoY, with the majority of tourists originating from Japan, the US and South Korea.

    Statistics from China’s National Immigration Bureau revealed that in the first quarter of 2024, over 141 million entries and exits were recorded nationwide, a year-on-year increase of 117.8%. Notably, the number of foreign visitor entries surged by 305.2% to 13 million.

    Picture of a man on a boat on the Suzhou River. Image: Getty Images
    Picture of a man on a boat on the Suzhou River. Image: Getty Images

    These figures contrast sharply with last year’s numbers. In the first half of 2023, Beijing and Shanghai received less than a quarter of the number of tourists as immediately before the pandemic. Challenges such as difficulties with digital payments, accommodations, and navigating daily activities due to language barriers and China’s reliance on mobile apps like WeChat and Alipay posed significant obstacles for international travelers.

    As China moves towards a cashless society, efforts are underway to make it easier for foreigners to use mobile payment systems. WeChat and Alipay now support overseas bank card organizations, including Visa, Mastercard, Discover Global Network, and JCB.

    Following a transitional period post-pandemic period, global tourism figures have returned to normal levels. Executives from luxury goods conglomerates, including industry leaders at LVMH, Kering, and Richemont, have visited China since the lifting of travel restrictions last year.

    Over the past year, prominent figures such as Burberry’s creative director Daniel Lee, Louis Vuitton’s womenswear creative director Nicolas Ghesquière and menswear creative director Pharrell Williams, Prada’s creative co-directors Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, and Gucci’s creative director Sabato De Sarno have all ventured to China.

    This level of engagement reflects luxury brands’ confidence in the country’s development and its residents’ consumption power. Top-draw brands Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Gucci have all showcased replica runways in China to strengthen their bonds with local consumers over the past two years

    As the tourism economy rebounds, so do business opportunities.

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