China urged to further ease inbound travel to boost global tourism

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2014, 5:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2014, 5:50am

China should further relax inbound travel restrictions to gain a larger share of the fast growth in global tourism, according to Gerald Lawless, the president and chief executive of Jumeirah Group, a Middle Eastern luxury hotel operator that plans to speeds up its expansion in Asia, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo.

Lawless said he welcomed Beijing's latest step to allow 72-hour visa-free stays to transit passengers from 51 countries including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the United States, Japan, Russia and Britain.

"It is good that the Chinese government started to offer the 72-hour visas," he said. "But then I say, well, why only 72 hours? Because, if I'm good for 72 hours, I should also be good for 144 hours.

"I think the authorities should continue to look at possibilities to encourage international tourism."

His confidence that such a message will get across to Beijing's policymakers, combined with strong interest from foreign travellers to visit China and the variety the country offers visitors, is pushing Jumeirah to enter more mainland cities.

Jumeirah signed management agreements last month to operate new hotels in three cities: Nanjing in 2016, Haikou on Hainan island in 2018, and Wuhan in Hubei province in 2020.

The group has been operating its first mainland hotel in Shanghai since 2011 and has five others in the pipeline - in Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Sanya, Qiandaoqu in Zhejiang province, and Macau.

Jumeirah is part of government investment arm Dubai Holding and its flagship hotel Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is recognised as a global landmark building alongside more established structures such as the Sydney Opera House and Eiffel Tower.

The group operates 22 hotels, resorts and residences across the world - five in Asia, six in Europe and 11 in the Middle East - with an additional 17 under development.

Lawless said China should let airlines operate more international flights to facilitate global travel, alongside its efforts to boost domestic consumption, which are equally important to hoteliers.

This would enable Beijing to better counter the impact of a global slowdown, as cross-border travel was expected to increase much faster than the world economy in the next few years, creating many entry-level jobs for young people, he said.

The MasterCard Global Destination Cities index ranked Dubai as the fifth most popular city in the world this year, ahead of New York and Istanbul.

It estimated Dubai would receive 12 million international visitors this year, 7.5 per cent more than last year. Mainland visitors to the emirate grew 26 per cent in the first half, making China its sixth-largest source market.

In C-Suite, Lawless shares his global strategy, including plans for Asia.