China eases international entry requirements but challenges dampen the country’s welcome

Tourists visiting ancient chinese architecture. historic buildings Imperial Palace, the forbidden city with blue sky in Beijing, China

China’s inbound travel industry welcomes the lifting of all pre-entry Covid-19 testing requirements, which came into effect on August 30, but the road to recovery remains challenging, they say.

Members of the industry told TTG Asia that China has become less attractive as it is now more expensive due to competition from a strong domestic market that is willing to pay.

Travellers to China now face higher prices, connectivity issues, cashless payment as priority, among other obstacles to a stress-free trip

In addition, tourism businesses are still grappling with reduced inventory, manpower issues and the aftermath of the pandemic.

Kin Qin, deputy general manager, Century Travel Holiday Group, which specialises in inbound from South-east Asia, said: “Costs have gone up because of higher air fares due to supply chain disruptions, shortage of inventory like coaches as well as manpower, where guide fees have increased from RMB600 (US$83) to RMB1,000.

“Domestic travel is very strong and a good number of Chinese travellers can and are willing to spend.”

A travel technology solutions provider commented that international leisure into China was “soft”, but corporate travel was doing well with C-suites wanting to “reconnect with teams and suppliers”.

He expects regional corporate meeting groups to return to China next year and is planning to capitalise on China reinstating its 15-day visa-free entry for citizens of Singapore, effective since July 26.

A corporate travel manager expressed the need for more clarity on China visa application and conditions.

He told TTG Asia on condition of anonymity: “A high-level leader from the US wanted to change his itinerary to include a trip to another province at the last minute. The travel team had to seek clarification if it was ok for him to change at will, or he absolutely needed to stick to the declared itinerary on his visa application.

“In the end we had to get in touch with China immigration to get guidance. So, for me, the expertise of visa agents is required. It is not just processing and reading of instructions.”

Another issue that came up was the requirement to declare job history on the visa application among other potentially sensitive information, he shared, and the traveller was unsure if he had to declare absolutely everything over the last 20 years.

The visa application process and flight availability “are better” now opined the general manager of a Beijing-based DMC, but longhaul Western travellers can expect to face a slew of digital issues when they arrive.

She said: “If travellers, whether on leisure or business, want mobile auto roaming access, they have to buy a China SIM card on arrival. However, many apps like Google, Instagram, etc are banned in China, limiting their connectivity.

“Attractions like museums also require pre-booking and the use of local payment platforms like WeChat Pay or AliPay. It is not uncommon to have to pay RMB1,500 (US$207) on the black market for a last-minute ticket to the Forbidden City compared to RMB60 if booked online in advance.”

She also highlighted commuting stress now in China. “Beijing is the size of Belgium and getting a taxi or a ride-hailing service requires a China app, and this makes it harder for older international travellers to get around.”

Cash can still be used in highly digitalised China, but European tourists, for example, can only withdraw up to 500 euros (US$542) a day from Chinese banks to convert into renminbi. This is inconvenient if they have to pay for big-ticket items, she said.

International corporate cards are accepted at fewer and fewer service points, she warned, and Chinese merchants who are used to cashless transactions often regard cash with suspicion.

She and Qin also observed that fewer and fewer hospitality employees were able to communicate effectively in English.

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