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Simpler visa procedures for Chinese tourists

02-08-2012 15:17 BJT

Travel agencies and destination countries try to cash in on a predicted spending and tourism surge, Xin Dingding, Zheng Yangpeng and Shi Yingying report from Beijing and Shanghai.

The ever-increasing number of Chinese tourists means that more and more countries are trying to simplify visa red tape.

A prime example of this occurred just last month. US President Barack Obama promised that procedures in China for non-immigrant visas will be much more efficient.

Travel services and destination countries are positioning themselves to cash in on the expected tourism surge.

Visa applicants gather outside the US embassy in Beijing on Jan 30. Zou Hong / China Daily

Li Meng of China International Travel Service said that the company doubled the number of April-October air tickets it usually buys for China-US flights. This is the route's peak travel season.

Figures back the confident outlook. The number of Chinese visitors to the US has grown from nearly 400,000 in 2007 to more than 1 million in 2010, according to the China Tourism Academy.

Chinese companies benefit by providing travel services, but the numbers are also good for destination countries. Tourists and students bring in hard cash and in sluggish economic times, cash is king.

The United States is the most frequently cited "dream destination" for Chinese citizens, followed by France, according to research by the US Travel Association. However, more Chinese visited second-place France.

"A big reason has been the US visa system," the Travel Association's Siming Cao told China Daily in an email. "If you look at countries that have made their visa process simpler for Chinese citizens, they capture a larger share of outbound travel than the US."

As evidence, she said that 38 percent of Chinese international travelers visited Western Europe in 2010, compared with 13 percent for the US.

Dun Jidong, a marketing manager with Ctrip, a leading online travel agency, said, "Many Chinese are scared away by the difficulty in filling out application forms printed in English and the inconvenience of personal interviews required for every applicant.

"Often an applicant has to stand in a line for nearly a day for the interview," Dun said. "More troublesome is that before the interview, the applicant has to wait a long, long time."

So many visa applications were submitted during the first half of 2010 and 2011 that applicants had to wait two to three months on average for the chance to interview, Dun said. That eliminated many travel plans with a short lead time.

The delay was compounded by the annual crush of applications for student visas from July through September.

For those who went through the whole process, many who answered a reporter's questions outside the US Embassy found it exhausting. One of them was Zhou Yan, a student from Shandong Normal University in East China.

She said she and her classmates had traveled more than 400 kilometers from Shandong to Beijing for an interview. "We waited for three hours, but the actual interview only took three minutes."

The dragon dance produces smiles outside the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland during Spring Festival. About 1,000 Chinese mainlanders visited the California park on Jan 25. Hong Kong China News Agency

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