The Beijing municipal government will allow foreigners landing in Beijing but destined for other countries 72 hours to roam around the city without having to apply for a visa, in a move designed to promote the capital's tourism industry, Ding Xiangyang, the city's deputy mayor, said over the weekend.
Ding was quoted by the Beijing News as saying on Saturday that the visa-free entry policy will bring Beijing an increase in the number of visitors and tourism revenue.
Ding said the new regulation has just been approved but did not say when it would be put into practice or which countries will be covered.
Ding said around 5 million foreign tourists visit Beijing annually, and he expects the number to double over the next three years.
"Foreign tourists spend an average of 1,000 dollars, more than three times as much as domestic travelers," he noted.
The city government and the Beijing Tourism Development Committee could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The Beijing News reported that experts estimated that the policy will inject some 4 billion yuan ($633.42 million) into the capital's economy every year.
Currently, foreign travelers who are transiting through Beijing are allowed a maximum stay of 24 hours and are not allowed to leave the airport area. Shanghai has implemented 48-hour visa waiver for travelers in transit from some countries.
"I welcome this policy, but I think it won't increase the number of travelers as the time is too short. Seven days would be better," James Grant, a student from the UK, told the Global Times Sunday.
Wei Xiang, a professor of tourism management at Beijing International Studies University, told the Global Times Sunday that the policy will not only boost the city's tourism industry, but also improve foreign trade in the future as China still has relatively tight visa requirements.
"Many cities in the world, such as Tokyo, have a visa waiver program to attract more visitors, and it has achieved good results. With Beijing's many transiting passengers, the policy will attract more tourists and boost the local economy," Wei said.
The Beijing Morning Post reported that Beijing had considered last year allowing travelers to stay seven days without a visa.
"It will be a good thing for Beijing, but it will also pose some challenges. For example, if someone is engaged in business activities during their 72 hours in the city, will that be allowed?" said Wei.
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