Are Relaxed Visa Requirements the Key to Encouraging Chinese Tourists?
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Are Relaxed Visa Requirements the Key to Encouraging Chinese Tourists?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) currently is reviewing a suggestion from the tourism House of Representatives intended to attract Chinese visitors to the Philippines in greater numbers. According to the Committee, visa regulations at present seem to hinder Chinese tourists from coming to the Philippines. Members of the tourism committee hope to attract at least 10 million tourists to the Philippines by 2016 and believe that relaxing visa requirements for Chinese nationals can help achieve that goal.

Restrictive rules discourage Chinese visits to the Philippines

Chinese nationals are faced with a number of visa-related impediments when visiting the Philippines. First, the current rules allow them to enter the Philippines visa-free for only seven days and require a special permit. This applies to holders of Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, British National Overseas (BNO), and Macau-Portuguese passports. The people of Mainland China, People’s Republic of China (PRC) passport holders, may enter the Philippines without a visa for tourism purposes, but they must have a valid Australian, Canadian, Japanese, Schengen, or United States visa and a valid return or ongoing ticket. Visas are required of Republic of China (ROC) passport holders, the people from Taiwan, to enter the Philippines. Quite arduous, Chinese nationals must apply for and receive requisite visas prior to the visit.

Secondly, the Philippine Consulate in Macau, where many Philippine visas are issued, dwells on security. The Consulate is unlikely to issue visas to Chinese visitors who are not members of a tour group accredited with the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT). These obstacles, according to the members of the Committee on Tourism of the Philippine House of Representatives, impede tourism in the Philippines. China was once the largest source of visitors to the Philippines before it sank to the fourth spot in the last three years. Chinese travelers prefer regional destinations such as Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, and South Korea. There is a strong draw in such places for shopping and gambling, plus there are advantages with proximity, affordability, and lack of language barriers. The current policies in the Philippines for admission of Chinese tourists are found too restrictive, causing loss in substantial potential income.

Lawmakers’ campaign  

Lawmakers call on relaxing visa requirements for the residents of China.  In spite of the current shoal and islet feud between China and the Philippines, local legislators push for an in-depth review of the present rules that they think are too stringent for tourists from China. Negros Occidental Representative Alfredo Benitez headed the charge in Resolution 732. He pushed for a visa-upon-landing privilege for Chinese tourists so that they would no longer need to obtain one prior to travel. Rene Relampagos, Bohol Representative, thinks that China’s proximity to the Philippines makes it easier to attract Chinese visitors to the Philippines. Because the Chinese are geographically close, the Philippines should be a natural destination for visitors who want to maximize their leisure time and minimize the travel time. Relampagos even regarded the relaxation of visa requirements as a trend nowadays. The DFA is now reviewing the suggestion of the Congressmen.

DFA Assistant Secretary for consular services Wilfredo Santos ensured that legal considerations will be discussed in a meeting involving an inter-agency task force on immigration. Together with the Department of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, DOT, and security and intelligence services, Santos guarantees to update the tourism committee about discussions to relax visa requirements for Chinese tourists.

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