Vice Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China Xie Hangsheng (left) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell shake hands after the signing of a mutual visa exemption agreement. TORRELL GLINTON
By Royston Jones Jr.
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- The government of The Bahamas on Thursday signed a mutual visa exemption agreement with China to make it easier for Chinese and Bahamians to visit each other’s country.
The agreement allows Bahamians and Chinese passport holders 30-day visa free access.
It does not affect student or residency permits.
Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said the agreement is expected to take effect around mid-2014.
“Through the signing of this agreement, our tourism industry, which is the cornerstone of the nation’s economy, will be strengthened,” Mitchell said before signing the agreement.
“And with this agreement, The Bahamas will join North America, Europe and Australia as one of the top destinations for over 70 million possible Chinese tourists who frequently travel internationally.”
Mitchell said the agreement is the first of many technical and economic ties to be explored in the future.
Vice Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng said through an interpreter that the agreement would entice more Chinese visitors and investors to come to The Bahamas.
Xie met with Prime Minister Perry Christie before the agreement signing ceremony.
“Over the years we have enjoyed political mutual trust and very good progress in our business cooperation,” he told reporters.
“Besides the stadium (Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium), the Airport Gateway Project was just completed this year.
“As you may know, by the end of next year, the China-invested Baha Mar resort, the largest of its kind in the Caribbean region, will be completed.
“This is a showcase of the pragmatic progress of our cooperation.”
The multimillion-dollar stadium was a gift from China.
And the road construction project was funded by the Export-Import Bank of China.
Baha Mar's senior vice president of administration and external affairs Robert 'Sandy' Sands said the majority of tourists will continue to travel from North America, but he said it is important to reduce dependence on that market.
He said considering that Chinese visitors are “prolific gamblers”, who spend three times as long in tourist destinations than North Americans, the prospects for Baha Mar and The Bahamas look good.
“This agreement will not only give us access to individuals who live in Asia, but Chinese individuals who live in other parts of the world,” he said.
“It just gives us access to this ever-growing market that has proven to be pivotal in terms of tourism success in multiple countries around the world.”
According to statistics, the number of outbound Chinese tourists last year totaled 83 million, up 18.41 million in comparison with 2011.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian