Xi’an and Qingdao join Hong Kong solo traveller scheme

China’s State Council has added the cities Qingdao and Xi’an to the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS), which enables solo mainland tourists from designated cities to visit Hong Kong or Macau for seven days at a time. From March 6, residents of these cities join those of 49 other mainland cities in the scheme, started in 2003 to boost a tourism economy battered by the SARS epidemic.

The news comes as Hong Kong looks to boost its economy, which has struggled even more than the mainland to rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourists arriving under the solo traveller scheme accounted for 64% of all mainland arrivals to Hong Kong before the pandemic. With a combined population of 23 million, the addition of Xi’an and Qingdao could represent a big boost to Hong Kong and Macau tourism.

As reported by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu welcomed the move. “These two cities’ tens of millions of residents, trillions of yuan in gross domestic product and annual growth prove their residents are in high-income, high-spending consumer groups,” Lee said in a press conference on February 23.

Prior to the introduction of the Individual Visit Scheme in 2003, mainland residents could only visit Hong Kong and Macau on business visas or as part of a government-approved tour group. Mirroring today’s predicament, the scheme was introduced to boost the two cities’ economies after the SARS epidemic caused a dramatic drop-off in inbound tourism from the mainland.

Originally, the IVS was only open to residents of Beijing, Shanghai and 8 cities in Guangdong province. Showing almost immediate success, it was shortly thereafter expanded to all cities in Guangdong and 9 other cities across Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Fujian provinces. More cities, including Harbin, are expected to be added soon, as long as the addition of Xi’an and Qingdao goes smoothly.


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