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Hainan to offer 30-day visa-free period for visitors
Published on: 2018-04-19
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052China’s government has thrown open the doors to visitors from 59 countries, giving them visa-free entry to Hainan island, in an unprecedented move to spur economic growth and boost tourism in the backwater province.

Starting May 1, passport holders from the UK, the US, Canada and scores of other European and Asian countries will be allowed to enter Hainan for stays of up to 30 days, according to an announcement Wednesday by the State Immigration Authority.

Absent from the list are African countries, countries on the Indian subcontinent, as well as three members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean): Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

051The latest move is an expansion from a 2000 policy that permitted tour groups from 21 countries to enter Hainan visa-free for up to two weeks. The new move lets individual travelers enter Hainan and extends the period of stay.

The move is likely to benefit Chinese airlines, including the island’s flagship carrier, Hainan Airlines, a unit of the troubled Chinese conglomerate, HNA Group.

It has a long way to go to become an international destination. The number of international tourist arrivals only crossed the one million mark last year. That was a mere 1.6 per cent of the 60 million domestic visitors that arrived in 2017. Bali, which is one-sixth the size of Hainan, greeted more than 5 million foreign visitors last year.

053But it is now at the centre of one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s initiatives to further open up the country’s tourism and financial sectors to attract more foreign investors, part of which is to transform Hainan into an international tourism destination and a free trade port.

Hainan’s service industry accounts for more than half of its 446.3 billion yuan gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. Revenue for the tourism sector – foreign and domestic arrivals – totaled 81.2 billion yuan.

054Although it has been China’s biggest special economic zone since 1988, the island has trailed rival zones such as Shenzhen in development and status. In the five years through 2017, it attracted less than US$10 billion in foreign investment – only 1.5 per cent of China’s total – and has struggled to find its place in the nation’s economic landscape.

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