Earlier this month, the U.S. said it would grant Chinese tourists 10-year multiple-entry visas. Now, New Zealand is also easing up on Chinese tourists—or at least, on the wealthy ones.
From March 1, holders of platinum- and diamond-level Unionpay credit cards will need to show only a copy of their card and three months of statements as financial evidence for short-term travel and work visas to the island nation. Currently, to get visas to New Zealand, Chinese citizens must go through a laborious process of collecting and submitting bank-deposit statements, letters from their employers and salary slips.
Chinese President Xi Jinping witnessed the signing of the agreement between China Unionpay and the New Zealand government on his visit to the country last week. This follows an agreement introduced in 2012 that gave China Southern Airlines’ gold and silver frequent-flyer card holders easier visa access. That move drew strong debate in New Zealand’s government, with lawmaker Winston Peters arguing the deal “compromised the integrity of New Zealand’s overseas visa system.”
Countries around the world have been streamlining visa processes for Chinese travelers, who have made 98 million trips so far this year. They are also big spenders, splurging the most on tax-free shopping last year and accounting for 27% of global tax-free travel spending, according to Global Blue, which processes tax refunds.
Chinese travelers have already begun to discover the allure of New Zealand, accounting for the second-most number of tourists there, after Australia. Average spending by Chinese visitors to New Zealand is higher than any other groups of tourists, according to China Unionpay.
New Zealand topped a list of 22 nations as Chinese tourists’ most satisfying destination in the first quarter of 2014, according to China Tourism Academy, a research center under China’s Tourism Bureau. The poll measures travelers’ satisfaction with public services, environmental conditions and security. New Zealand’s fresh air and stunning scenery can provide a bit of a reprieve for those living in heavily polluted Chinese cities.
But the influx of Chinese tourists—and property buyers—has also led to a backlash in New Zealand. Mr. Peters, leader of conservative political party New Zealand First,argues that the credit-card policy essentially allows Chinese to buy their way into the country by skirting key criteria.
However, Kevin Bowler, chief executive for government agency Tourism New Zealand, said any effort to streamline the visa process for international visitors are good for the tourism industry.
“The agreement provides more opportunity to grow the value of this important market, which is a priority for Tourism New Zealand,” he said.
The influx of new arrivals also has triggered an unwelcome side effect in the nation: skyrocketing house prices. Before its September election, some conservative parties proposed a clampdown on visas and other anti-immigration policies in an effort to lure votes.