At the start of 2013, Beijing and Shanghai became the first cities in China to provide three-day, visa-free programs for foreign travelers. Guangzhou followed suit at the beginning of August. It now appears Kunming will become the fourth city in the country to offer this option, pending government approval.
While requirements for those seeking long-term stays in China have become more rigorous and confusing, the recently enacted 72-hour scheme is an attempt to make short business and tourist stopovers more attractive. Citizens from 45 countries will be able to take advantage of the policy change if they can show travel documents proving they are moving on to another country in less than three days.
The stipulations only concern air travelers arriving at Kunming Changshui International Airport. Policies specific to each city where the initiative is in place differ and it is not clear if Kunming will follow the rules laid out for Beijing and Shanghai or Guangzhou. Tourists in Guangzhou are allowed to use their three-day windows to explore Guangdong province, while those in the other two cities are not permitted to travel outside of the respective municipalities.
Aviation administration officials in all four cities expect the policies to increase international air traffic and to promote China's major airports as stopover and connection hubs. However, in the case of Beijing, more international traffic has yet to materialize. As an article on tourism website Travel Daily Media points out:
...in Beijing at least, the benefits of the scheme have not been immediately noticeable. The Chinese capital launched the visa waiver programme on 1 January 2013, but in the first six months of the year visitor arrivals to the city actually fell 14%, largely due to declining traffic from Japan and South Korea.
Whether Kunming's inclusion in the visa-free system will boost international stopovers remains to be seen. The Spring City is currently on very few long-range international routes. It is serviced instead mostly by domestic carriers and regional companies such as budget airline Air Asia.
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