China has announced to reopen its borders to foreign tourists for the first time in the three years since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted by allowing all categories of visas to be issued from Wednesday.
China stopped issuing visas to foreigners, and passports to its people, in early 2020 as the disease ravaged the central city of Wuhan.
The resumption of visa services removes the last of the cross-border control measures introduced because of the virus.
“Resuming applications for all types of visas removes another significant barrier in the resumption of normal travel between the UK and China,” Tom Simpson, managing director of China-Britain Business Council, told the Reuters news agency.
“The [council] has already seen business travel applications and arrivals begin to increase since January, however, this news should lead to a significant increase in visits in particular for tourism.”
Areas in China that required no visas before the pandemic will revert to visa-free entry, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. This will include the southern tourist island of Hainan and cruise ships passing through Shanghai port.
Visa-free entry to the southern manufacturing hub of Guangdong for foreigners from Hong Kong and Macau will also start again.
The ministry also said foreigners holding visas issued before March 28, 2020 that are still within their validity dates would also be able to enter China.
Beijing started taking applications for passports from its citizens on January 8 after abruptly abandoning its zero-COVID strategy at the end of last year. It also withdrew its longstanding advisory against all foreign travel.
Data from Chinese online travel agencies Ctrip and Qunar, especially during the Lunar New Year towards the end of January, reported significant increases in bookings and searches for flights to the resort of Sanya in Hainan.
Before the pandemic, China was the world’s largest market for outbound travel, having gone from 4.5 million travellers in 2000 to 150 million in 2018, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Chinese are also the world’s biggest spenders when on holiday, accounting for $277bn or 16 percent of the world’s total spending that same year.