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Chongqing launches 72-hour visa-free stays

Chongqing will allow transit passengers 72-hour visa-free stays from November in a move aimed at boosting the local economy and tourism.

The new policy will apply to visitors from 45 countries, the municipal government announced on Wednesday, and follows similar decisions taken by Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

Ai Yang, deputy secretary-general of the Chongqing government, said, "The policy will increase cooperation between Chongqing and foreign countries, boosting tourism, commerce and cultural exchanges."

He sees the policy as an opportunity for Chongqing to develop local tourism, commerce, culture, exhibitions and air travel.

Jean Bruno, a Frenchman who has worked in the legal sector in Chongqing for three years, said the decision will boost cultural and performance exchanges between Chongqing and overseas countries.

"It will benefit artists and troupes the most, making it much easier to stage touring shows in Chongqing," Bruno said, adding that it will also help some of his friends who are interested in touring Asia.

But he said the policy needs more promotion among foreigners. "It is worth making more people aware of this visitor-friendly policy," he added.

Visitors eligible for visa-free stays must have air tickets to a third country with confirmed dates and seats, and visas where required.

A service center for transit passengers will operate at Chongqing airport.

"The airport will provide services including currency exchange and travel advice at the international terminal for the convenience of passengers," said Pei Mingxue, the airport's deputy manager.

In 2012, 22.05 million passengers used Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, ranking it the ninth-busiest nationwide.

More than 1 million passengers entered or left China from January to September at the airport, with the total for the year estimated to reach 1.3 million.

Pei also said a third terminal is being built at the airport and work is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

Twenty-one international airlines operate from the airport, and a non-stop flight from Chongqing to Sydney is due to be launched at the end of the year. Non-stop flights to the 45 countries covered by the new policy, including Russia, Germany and Italy, are being planned.

Zhang Xiang, a senior official at the Chongqing Tourism Administration, said that from January to September the city received nearly 52 million overnight visitors, with 1.71 million coming from overseas.

The majority of foreign visitors came from the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, Zhang said.

"The tourism administration will provide suggested routes for transit passengers, including a Three Gorges tour and a food tour. We will also open a service window at the airport to provide advice in several languages," she added.

Chongqing, the only municipality in southwestern China, has a population of 30 million. The downtown area is surrounded by hills and has two rivers.