(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
Israel on Wednesday announced plans to reduce the onus on Chinese nationals looking to visit the holy land, tackling an oft-cited problem that stands in the way of tourism and business visits.
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin approved a fast-track application for Chinese tourists who had already been granted visas by the United States or the European Union. They will also allow group visas to request changes up to 24 hours ahead of departure.
“Tourism from China is significant for both countries in many aspects, including its contribution to the economy and tourism in Israel, and is likely to contribute to bilateral relations,” Shalom said.
The latest moves follow a recent decision to fast-track visa application requests for tour groups. The government is also considering issuing 10-year tourist visas to eligible applicants.
Levin said China was a prime target for tourism, and the steps would have palpable results.
Hainan Airlines, China’s largest privately owned airline, is expected to begin operating three direct weekly flights from Being to Israel in April.
China became the largest source of global tourism in 2012, and it is expected to account for 200 million tourists annually by 2020. In 2014, there were 116 million Chinese tourists who spent an estimated $120 billion on their vacations.
Of those, only about 34,100 came to Israel. But even that figure represented a 76 percent increase over 2012. Easing visa restrictions and increased direct flights are expected to have a further positive effect.