Travel agencies in Hong Kong have complained that the Guangdong government caught them off guard by abruptly suspending the popular “144-hour convenience visa” regime for some tourists.
Apple Daily cited tour guides as saying that some foreign tourist groups were barred by Guangdong customs officers at border checkpoints since Saturday.
The tourists were not allowed to enter even though the groups held the so-called 144-hour convenience visas, the Hong Kong tour guides said.
Launched in 2000, the 144-hour Convenience Visa policy offers simplified procedures, which take only a few hours to be completed, to groups of foreign visitors who enter Guangdong via 10 of its cities with the help of registered travel agencies in Hong Kong.
The move was aimed at boosting tourism development in the Pearl River Delta, with the visa holders allowed to stay for up to six days in the region.
But now it appears that the policy has been put in suspension, at least temporarily.
A veteran tour guide told Apple Daily that she tried to take a group of Thailand tourists to Shenzhen on Saturday, but her group was denied entry by customs officials at the Lo Wu checkpoint.
When questioned, a customs official cited “a change of policy”, the tour guide said.
As the trip had to be abandoned, the tour guide said she had to face angry words from the Thai tourists.
Meanwhile, she also found herself scrambling to arrange hotel rooms in Hong Kong for the tour group members.
As she had to make urgent and last-minute bookings, her company suffered losses of tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars, she said.
In the wake of multiple similar complaints, Apple Daily conducted an investigation and determined that Guangdong has indeed suspended issuance of the convenience visas to visitors from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, all of which have a large number of Muslims in their population.
There were rumors that the visas were suspended as Chinese authorities fear that Islamist militants might enter the country as tourists and launch attacks, said Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.
He said the council sent an inquiry about the issue to Guangdong Tourism Administration but has yet to receive a reply.
A source told Apple Daily that the 144-hour convenience visas may have been suspended as part of security measures for a G20 summit that is scheduled to take place in China early next month.
As the summit will be held during September 4-5 in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, the visa suspension will last for a month at least, the person said.
Hong Kong’s travel industry has criticized the move as being too hasty. It is worried that the move will dent the business of local tour operators who arrange trips to the mainland.
It is estimated one in eight of 1.5 million visitors that Hong Kong received from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia last year had applied for the Guangdong convenience visas.
Based on the number, about 100,000 visitors could be affected each month due to the visa suspension.
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