We all love to hate on Chinese tour groups. You know, the ones that move in great big huddles, a sea of neon caps behind a flag-touting guide. But actually, there is a good reason why they’re so ubiquitous and it may be issue of practicality more than a travel mode of choice. Strict regulations on the issuance of foreign visas for the Chinese populace prohibit many Chinese nationals from traveling abroad freely. Meaning? Those large groups of Chinese tourists aren’t going to be disappearing anytime soon.
Other than a personal disinclination for independent travel, what contributes significantly to the tour group phenomenon is that Chinese nationals have a horrendously difficult time obtaining visas by themselves. (You didn’t really believe they simply all love listening to a shrieky megaphone day-in, day-out, did you?)
Rising world power we may be, but it was only a few decades ago that we opened up to the world and it shows. China still hasn’t gotten around to establishing visa-free agreements with other nations. Then there’s also the problem of Chinese tourists pulling a Houdini. 33 Chinese tourists just went missing on a tour to Jeju Island in Korea in an attempt to remain in the country illegally.
Instances like this really don’t help. Other nations, fearing illegal immigrants, tighten the restrictions on giving visas to Chinese citizens. Chen Zikun, a freelance journalist and Sina blogger, illuminates just how hard it can be via a fascinating post describing his travels abroad. (Click here for the English translation)
Europe, Chen says, is especially hard on Chinese travelers. France, Austria, and Finland wanted great big stacks of information such as property ownership certificates, car ownership certificates, proof of bank balance exceeding anywhere from RMB 50,000 to RMB 100,000, a letter from the applicant’s employer, and in the case of Austria, “an ‘accurate’ record of ancestry going back eight generations…”
The European Tour Operators Association confirms the long, bothersome process. Just yesterday, it revealed that 26% of all potential Chinese tourists simply just give up the application process because its so unpleasant.
Yikes! But it’s not always that bad. Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and Cambodia are pretty China-friendly. Myanmar, Zimbabwe, and North Korea are also hassle-free as long as you’re not a journalist, according to Chen.
Not so for the US, which is a popular destination for Chinese tourists. America is pretty darn harsh on Chinese applicants. Chen says you to first go to the embassy for an interview, get fingerprinted, and if you happen to get rejected, there goes your application fee. That USD 100 is unrefundable.
With so much red-tape, you can hardly blame Chinese nationals for opting to join a tour group instead. Just something to think about the next time you sight a tour guide with a gaggle of Chinese tourists in tow or you’re standing in line for your third hour at the Chinese immigration office.