China needs to raise inbound readiness amid tourism trade deficit: Ctrip chairman

Chongsheng temple, Yunnan, China

While China’s outbound travel continue to boom, International’s co-founder and executive chairman James Liang urged measures to correct the inbound tourism trade deficit into the country, estimated at around US$200 billion.

Speaking at a keynote session of the recent ITB China 2019 in Shanghai, Liang cited key pain points experienced by foreign visitors in China included no Internet access to social media such as Google and Facebook, stringent visa requirements, limited access to local hotels as well as the absence of centralised overseas promotional resources and strategy.

Chongsheng temple, Yunnan, China

“Based on the 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index conducted by World Economic Forum, China was ranked 129 out of 136 countries when measuring the visa-friendly level. It shared the same ranking as Cameroon and Burundi, with others like Congo, Pakistan and Yemen behind.

He suggested options to ease visa restrictions, such as short-term tourist visa or online visa application.

The OTA giant is working with Sanya, Hainan to offer a 30-day visa-free online application with a function to track the progress of individual application.

“Additionally, Ctrip’s online hotel data indicated a high percentage of three-star and above hotels welcome foreigners, but about 77.6 per cent of two-star and below hotels in China only receive mainland Chinese. We hope all hotels can be open to foreign markets.”

Moreover, foreigners are required to queue up at train stations to collect tickets before boarding. “Queues are always long… we suggest rail authority activate a self-service ticket collection by presenting passport.”

While these stumbling blocks have been around for long time, Liang pointed out that mobile payment is a more recent pain point for travellers.

“China is well-developed on mobile payment with most Chinese paying with their smartphones. But foreign visitors can’t do the same because it is very troublesome for them to set up bank account here and link their bank cards to China’s mobile (payment providers). Apart from opening the door to international bank card payments, it also needs regulatory commissions, financial corporations/merchants and Internet service enterprise to work together.”

Some hotels in the country that service an international clientele agree. For example, at Pan Pacific Xiamen, which welcomes a good number of German business travellers, assistant director of sales Anna Zhang expressed that limited payment options pose an inconvenience for first-time visitors.

She said: “Foreign visitors still prefer the traditional way to settle service or product payment in cash or credit card. It sounds safer for them and usually takes longer for them to get familiarised with the modern payment method.”

Meanwhile, Sturla Simone from Asian Trails China said that hotel supply is not the problem in China, and instead pointed to service standards as an area that needs improvement.

“We never had a problem of finding hotel rooms and supply is sufficient. However, service standards are far from satisfactory, for instance, when it comes to cleanliness in hotel rooms and restaurants. Also, there is shortage of quality foreign language guides during peak season.”

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