Britain needs to say “ni hao” to the Chinese

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Word has reached CD-Traveller towers that China’s capital is considering allowing foreign tourists a 72-hour window to explore Beijing without a visa.

About time, says someone who recently spent a year living and working in Beijing. I never understood why the capital refused to allow foreign visitors in transit the chance to tour around the city and see blockbuster sights such as Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City.

Shanghai, and South China’s Hainan province already allow transit passengers to escape the airport and see something of the Middle Kingdom, so it’s a bit bizarre (and backward) that Beijing – capital of what is arguably the world’s next superpower –  hasn’t followed suit and relaxed its ridiculously strict visa policy (and thereby boost inbound tourism and trade).

If Beijing loosens its visa restrictions, Britain would do well to extend the same courtesy to Chinese tourists. It’s a decision that makes sense for while Europe’s economy stagnates, China’s economy continues to grow faster than any other in the world. Around 109,000 Chinese tourists visited the UK in 2010, with the average Chinese visitor spending around £1,700 – three times the global average spend. Little wonder then department stores such as Selfridges and Harrods have installed Union Pay (China’s domestic bank card) terminals to capitalise on China’s new found wealth.

However we need to make it easier for Chinese tourists to touch down on British soil, in the first place. During my time in Beijing, many of my Chinese colleagues told me how they longed to visit the UK but, due to visa restrictions, ended up elsewhere in Europe (think France, Germany and Italy) or in America – the first country to relax visa restrictions in order to accommodate Chinese tourists.

It’s time that Cameron and coe reduced the red tape and upped our efforts to attract wealthy Chinese tourists. In these tough economic times can we afford not to?


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