Last week Iran announced that foreign visitors from China will no longer require a visa and will not receive a stamp in their passport when visiting the Islamic Republic of Iran; Until now, less than 100,000 Chinese visit the country per year, the majority being business trips.
This relatively small number does not reflect the potential of Iran as a tourist destination for Chinese. With 80 million inhabitants and a territory extending more than 1.6 million sq. km, it is one of the 20 biggest countries in the world. Iran is the home of 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and its capital, Tehran, is only 5,500 km away from Beijing, and is easily reachable by a direct flight or via Dubai.
Iran is not the only country which expects to see more Chinese arrivals as a result of a visa-free, eVisa or visa-on-arrival policy. Morocco saw arrival numbers climb from 10,000 to almost 200,000 within three years. Furthermore, Serbia recorded increases of 180% after also scrapping visas for Chinese visitors. Visa-free and easy-to-get visas for Chinese tourists now amount for more than half the countries in the world, being a clear incentive to drive Chinese outbound tourism.
The effect of this on China’s outbound tourism cannot be underestimated. Further iterated by the increased number of international flights from 2nd tier airports, it has become possible for Chinese citizens to spontaneously decide whether to spend a long weekend on Jeju Island, or attend a business meeting in Tunis.
It also reinforces the message that Chinese visitors are welcome. Upon arrival at Kathmandu airport, incoming travellers are required to pay 25 USD for a visa – except nationals from India and China. To save 25 USD is nice, but to be treated better than Western tourists for once certainly warms a Chinese soul beyond any economic savings.
Destinations still asking for individual visa applications for Chinese visitors such as Schengen countries in Europe or South Africa are at danger of losing further market share. In 2013 South Africa welcomed 150,000 Chinese arrivals, whilst Morocco stood at 8,000 arrivals. By 2018 these figures had changed to 96,000 vs. 180,000, respectively.
Prof. Dr. Arlt and the COTRI Weekly team / www.china-outbound.com