Endowed with rich tourism resources, Southwest China's Sichuan and Chongqing are eyeing drastic moves to boost tourism, including a possible plan for visa-free transit visits of 144 hours. As the coronavirus ebbs in most parts of the Chinese mainland, and the government endeavors to find a better balance between anti-virus efforts and resuming normal life, local authorities are acting to help the tourism sector.
Their measures include bailouts for the sector, which used to contribute roughly 10 percent of China's GDP, so it can support economic growth in the second half.
Sichuan, which has tremendous geographical diversity, historic sites, famous spicy food and giant pandas, is pushing for a 144-hour visa-free transit plan, which would be combined with direct international flights, Hongxing Xinwen, a local newspaper under the Chengdu Business Daily, reported on Wednesday.
Sichuan aims to propose the plan together with neighboring Chongqing municipality, so that a traveler could enter and exit from both places. The idea is to attract tourists from emerging markets, and major tourist resource countries of this region, and to promote the Chengdu-Chongqing region as a world class tourism site.
This is seen by Tian Yun, former vice director of the Beijing Economic Operation Association, as an exploration to resume travel with the outside world, as the region has effectively contained the virus for the past two years and life remains relatively uninterrupted.
Also, this region is geographically close to Southeast Asia and South Asia, places where China has close business ties. It's also home to many foreign consulates, so it has natural advantages for such exploration, Tian told the Global Times.
A manager surnamed Li from a Chengdu-based travel agency told the Global Times on Thursday that the company has heard about the plan but there have been no official announcements yet.
"Sichuan is very swift in containing outbreaks, so tourism within the province is always flourishing," said Li, noting that especially during the Dragon Boat Festival earlier this month, almost all hotels near tourist sites were booked out.
Sichuan was one of tourists' favorite destinations during the Dragon Boat Festival. Its main tourist spots received 6.58 million visitors during the three-day holiday in early June, accounting for 70 percent of the same period last year.
In total, 79.61 million trips were made during the holiday, equivalent to 86.8 percent of the same period 2019, and with revenue of 25.8 billion yuan ($3.86 billion).
Many other provinces and municipalities, where viral transmission has been curbed, resumed inter-provincial travel around the Dragon Boat Festival. As of Wednesday, 29 provincial-level regions, including Guangdong, Heilongjiang, Yunnan, Gansu, were allowing people to travel across the provinces.
Many places require people from low-risk areas to show 48-hour valid nucleic acid test results and take a test after their arrival.
Local governments have also rolled out policies for the battered tourist industry. For example, the governments of Zhejiang and Guizhou issued a total of 100 million yuan each in vouchers to boost tourism.
A tour guide surnamed Hu from China CYTS Tours Holding travel agency in Hubei told the Global Times that after the May 1 holiday, many tourist attractions launched promotions. Many museums and art galleries offer free admission, for example, and group tours have gotten much cheaper.
"Tourists with negative nucleic acid test results within 48 hours and a green health code can join tour groups, as long as he or she is not from an epidemic control area," Hu said.
Tian believed that boosting tourism, an industry that contributed as much as 10 percent of China's GDP in 2019, can help the economy rebound strongly in the next half of the year.
"Tourism is not only about tickets and hotels, it can propagate growth in other industries, such as transportation, consumption or even information," said Tian.
He said thanks to the government's gradually refined anti-virus measures and policy to boost tourism, the industry's confidence has improved. The expert also predicted the Dragon Boat Festival may have been a turning point for domestic tourism.
Ahead of the festival, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism suspended group tours, flights and hotel services for people from medium- and high- risk areas. The policy is seen by economists as a precise and scientific move to balance the anti-virus fight with the resumption of tourism, and it can greatly boost the confidence of the industry.