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Visa applications rise on release of pent-up demand

By Fan Feifei | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-31 07:40

People walk past tourist information in various languages including Chinese near the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, on March 26, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese visa applications have witnessed a strong rebound this year, driven by pent-up travel demand after the reopening of international borders and removal of quarantine requirements early this year, according to VFS Global, the world's leading visa application outsourcing and technology service provider.

Data from VFS Global show that the overall visa application volume from China reached 35 percent of the pre-pandemic levels by the end of May. Top destinations for visa applications from Chinese tourists include Canada, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. Japan, South Korea and Thailand are also popular destinations.

"China is one of our biggest and most important customer source markets. By the end of May, we restarted 80 percent of visa application centers in China in response to Chinese tourists' pent-up demand," said Kishen Singh, chief operating officer of the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Mongolia at VFS Global.

Singh said the bookings for visa appointments surged since March, adding he is bullish on the prospects of the robust recovery of outbound trips this year. He also estimated the volume of visa applications from China is projected to reach 70 to 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

Given the strong travel demand this year, Singh suggests that all applicants apply for their visas well in advance to avoid visa processing delays during the peak season. Moreover, the demand for personalized visa application services such as "visa at your doorstep" increased by 40 percent compared with 2019.

At present, VFS Global has over 400 visa application centers across 16 cities in China, catering to visa application facilitation for 35 government clients. The company has processed over 261 million applications since its inception in 2001.

According to a recent survey from market consultancy McKinsey, pent-up demand for outbound travel from the Chinese mainland is massive, with 40 percent of surveyed respondents wanting to travel and prioritizing international destinations for their next trip.

The World Tourism Organization forecasts that international arrivals will likely reach 80 percent to 95 percent of the pre-pandemic levels in 2023, compared with 63 percent in 2022, despite lingering global headwinds.

According to data from Ctrip, China's leading online tourism agency, the countries with the largest volume of visa applications in April were Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea.

In addition, the number of outbound ticket searches grew significantly in the past few days, with departure times concentrated before the Dragon Boat Festival, for popular destinations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Ctrip said.

Chinese people's urgent demand for outbound travel is also pushing tourism authorities to adjust their policies. On Jan 20, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism released a circular to revive outbound group travel to 20 countries with friendly entry policies toward China, including Thailand, the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and New Zealand.

The global travel industry will get a strong boost as China resumed quarantine-free cross-border travel on Jan 8 after nearly three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts said.

Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy, said China's outbound trip segment is expected to see a robust recovery this year, which will inject strong impetus into the prosperity of the country's tourism industry. He added that Chinese travelers' enthusiasm for outbound trips, which has been suppressed for three years, has unleashed a surge in visa applications.

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