China unveiled plans yesterday to permit visa-free travel to its southern island of Hainan, as Beijing pushes international tourism to the tropical destination in another step to open up the region. The new policy will start in May and allow travellers from 59 countries to visit Hainan for 30 days visa free, said Qu Yunhai, deputy director of the State Immigration Administration at a press conference in Beijing. Among the countries to be included in the program are Russia, the United States, France, Britain and Germany, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Turkey is not in the list.
The new rule will give Hainan less stringent visa requirements than in the rest of China, where travellers have to apply for visas through Chinese consulates abroad. The liberalization comes as part of a package of reforms to remake the island as a free trade zone and a beacon of openness for China. On Monday, China announced it would allow Hainan to develop horse racing and explore opening new types of lotteries connected to sports and international competitions.
Beijing also said it wants to position Hainan as a "center of international tourism consumption," a goal that has faced slow progress despite sandy beaches and massive spending on plush resorts. The province attracted fewer than a million foreign visitors in 2016, compared with over 7 million in Phuket, Thailand, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. Previously, some international visitors to the island could avoid China's visa requirements if they were on a shorter trip and travelling as part of a tour group.