Destinations around the world covet China’s enormous outbound travel market, but when the mobility of those tourists is thwarted, so too are potential travel earnings. That’s the point the European Travel Commission (ETC) is trying to drive home in a new report released to the organization’s 32 member nations on December 4.

Their main target? Overly complicated visa regulations.

While marketing has been a helpful driver of China tourism in Europe, including this year’s massive “China-EU Tourism Year” campaign promoted by the EU, a broad visa initiative could do much more to toward accessing the largest and highest-spending travel market in the world. According to the report, the ETC claims that visa reform “is likely to increase the average growth of Chinese arrivals from 7 percent to 18 percent per year between 2018-2023″, and it notes three different avenues for visa reform with earning predictions for each. One scenario involving visa-free entry is estimated to yield a whopping 71 percent increase in Chinese tourism from 2018 to 2023 — something most European countries would welcome with open arms.

The ETC report is backed by instances of Chinese traveler sentiment that are critical of destinations with complicated visa regulations, proving that it isn’t just money preventing Chinese citizens from traveling to long-haul destinations; it’s just as likely about the difficulty in obtaining certain visas. It’s one reason many Chinese tourists take more short-haul trips to neighboring countries, as those destinations tend to offer visa-free entry upon arrival.

The ETC estimates that visa-free entry to the EU would increase Chinese tourism by 71 percent between 2018 and 2023

Because of this, more countries are making the visa process easier for Chinese nationals, yet in the U.S., it is actually becoming more difficult for Chinese citizens to get visas, as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection began social media vetting visa applicants just this past year. The U.S. visa is also one of the more expensive visas to get at $160, but that hasn’t quelled its popularity with Chinese travelers: over 3.237 million arrivals to the U.S. are expected in 2018, according to the National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO), an office within the U.S. Department of Commerce.

For some nations, reforming their visa processes after a tourism setback has been one way to win back Chinese tourists. For example, Thailand, which had been an easily obtained visa for Chinese citizens, began offering temporary visa-free entry to bring back Chinese travelers following a boat accident over the summer that killed 47. When Thailand ends the visa-free entry prior to the Chinese Lunar New Year in February, it plans to offer e-visa services that should simplify the process for Chinese citizens.

As Chinese travelers continue to take more trips yearly — outspending all of their peers around the world — destinations that once set up restrictive visa processes are likely to find ways to make journeys easier for these tourists, and the ones that don’t will likely lose out on a lot of travel dollars.


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