Chengdu visa-free policy fuels more tourism
Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, has seen a boom in tourism since it adopted a 72-hour visa-free policy last September.
The policy allows nationals from 51 countries including the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan with valid visas and onward flight tickets to a third country to spend three days in the city.
According to a report from the city’s tourism bureau, Chengdu attracted 692,900 overseas tourists during the September-December period last year, up 19.55 percent year-on-year.
The total number of tourists in 2013 reached 155 million, an annual increase of 12.1 percent.
Tourism revenue last year surpassed 133 billion yuan ($21.4 billion), up nearly 27 percent over 2012.
After the 72-hour visa-free policy was put into place, the bureau set up the Chengdu Travel Alliance that includes the city’s major tourism institutions and enterprises such as travel agencies, hotels and the airport.
The non-profit alliance aims to offer the best service for visitors enjoying the 72-hour visa exemption.
“The alliance is set to ensure that all the enterprises provide high-quality services at reasonable prices,” said He Yudong, deputy director of the bureau.
The alliance also published a visitor guide offering travel tips and information on the city.
As part of its promotion campaign, the alliance invited 1,000 foreign visitors in transit to travel in Chengdu for free. Each gets a copy of the brochure and a free “panda card”.
The panda smart card developed by a local financial service company can be used to buy tickets for public transportation, movies and tourist destinations. Its holders can also enjoy discounts.
Travel agencies are offering trips to meet visitor needs and free shuttle buses from the city’s Shuangliu International airport take visitors in transit to famed tourist spots.
The tourism bureau has advertised on the BBC and CNN about Chengdu and some new travel routes.
He said that 2014 is the year of “huge significance” for the city’s tourism.
“We will try to improve the market and make it more mature. And every part of the industry should provide the best services,” he said.
Chengdu is the fourth-biggest air hub in China. Its Shuangliu airport served 71 international routes at the end of last year, ranking first among all airports in China’s central and western regions.
According to the city’s tourism bureau, Chengdu will open air routes to San Francisco and Yangon later this year.
The bureau is working on regulations to encourage businesses from the travel alliance to offer good services with relatively low prices for visitors in transit.
A plan for more duty-free stores at the airport and in downtown Chengdu is also on the agenda.
Home to 252 Fortune 500 companies, the city also places importance on business trips and the expo.
“The number of businesspeople coming to Chengdu to attend meetings or expos is large — it is a huge market,” He said.
With the 72-hour visa-free policy “more businesspeople want to go to Chengdu” instead of Beijing or Shanghai said Xue Lian, project manager of the American Chamber of Commerce in Southwest China.
The tourism bureau has also come up with new promotion campaigns in social media like Facebook and WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app.
Newly-born pandas. Long famed as home to giant pandas, Chengdu tourism is now more broadly based. Foreigners make lanterns decorated with paper-cut patterns, a traditional way to celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival.
Details of the front gate of a local house.