'China's Hawaii' Expands Visa-Free Access to 33 More Countries

(Bloomberg) -- China has extended visa-free access to Hainan for another 33 -- mostly European and South American -- countries, as President Xi Jinping seeks to boost the tropical province’s popularity among foreign tourists.

New regulations expanding the travel privileges to 59 nations come into effect in May, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the State Immigration Administration. Tourists from those countries can enter the province as individuals without a visa and stay for as many as 30 days -- shift from previous rules that required people to travel in groups and stay no longer than 21 days.

Countries added to the list of those with visa-free access include Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Poland and Qatar.

The change would help “further expand the opening up of the tourism industry and attract more international tourists to travel to Hainan,” Xinhua said, adding that the move would promote the aviation industry, tourism and economic development.

The announcement comes as the province -- often billed as “China’s Hawaii” -- is trying to manage a budget gap and the debt woes of HNA Group Co., its biggest conglomerate, which is facing pressure from creditors after a global acquisition spree.

Foreigners traveling in the rest of mainland China will generally need to arrange visas before arriving in the country. Hainan, which roughly the size of Switzerland, received a package of economic policies paving the way for horse racing, sport lotteries, and expanded duty-free shopping after Xi visited the area earlier this month.

Bloomberg reported in February that government agencies under a party reform group headed by Xi were considering proposals to support the island, including allowing online gaming and a lottery, relaxing visa rules and enhancing infrastructure.

Countries with visa-free access to Hainan now include:

Albania Argentina Australia Austria Belarus Belgium 
Bosnia and Herzegovina Brazil Brunei Bulgaria Canada Chile 
Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Finland 
France Germany Greece Hungary Iceland Indonesia 
Ireland Italy Japan Kazakhstan Latvia Lithuania 
LuxembourgMacedonia MalaysiaMalta Mexico Monaco 
Montenegro Netherlands New Zealand Norway Philippines Poland 
Portugal Qatar Romania Russia Serbia Singapore
SlovakiaSloveniaSouth KoreaSpain Sweden Switzerland
ThailandUAE UkraineU.K.U.S.

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