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China to allow visa-free entry for foreign tour groups arriving by cruise ships

China will allow visa-free entry for foreign tour groups that come to the country via cruise ships in a further bid to attract international visitors and boost its sluggish inbound travel market.

Overseas tour groups on cruise boats will be able to enter and stay in China without a visa for up to 15 days, according to the National Immigration Administration. The new policy will be effective from May 15.

Tour groups can enter China from 13 ports including Shanghai, Qingdao, Dalian and Haikou, Mao Xu, a senior official with the immigration administration, said at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday. Qualifying tour groups need to be received and handled by domestic travel agencies and will be allowed to travel to coastal provinces as well as the capital, Beijing, while they are in China, Mao said.

“The visa-free entry policy for foreign tour groups on cruise ships will provide policy support for the development of the cruise industry,” Mao said. “It will also help attract more foreign tourists to China and provide more convenient channels for people-to-people exchanges between China and other countries.”

China has some 21 international cruise ships that ply the country’s ports en route to other destinations like Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, Zhu Zhenyu, a senior official with Ministry of Transport, said at the same briefing. A total of 107,000 passenger trips were made via cruise ships in China in 2023, according to Zhu.

The push comes on the heels of a slew of policy measures that China has adopted since late last year to try and attract more international visitors. They include visa-free entry for travelers from some European and Asian countries, including Singapore. The country’s first domestically made cruise ship also debuted in January, offering local tourists more options to travel abroad in a still-familiar environment.

But China could find it difficult to lure overseas visitors to its shores amid a weakening economy and muted demand for travel in Asia’s biggest economy.

Australian airline Qantas Airways Ltd. recently suspended flights between Sydney and Shanghai, instead adding more services to Singapore and Bengaluru in India. The carrier cited low demand for travel between Australia and China as the reason, and noted interest hasn’t recovered as strongly as expected since Covid.