GUANGZHOU - On the same day that China Southern Airlines began discussions with Italy to open direct flights between Guangzhou and Rome, the Italian Consulate-General in Guangzhou began fast-tracking visa applications for some Chinese tourists.
Deputy Consul-General Massimo Baldassarre said eight tour operators, through which Chinese tourists can submit their individual visa applications, can use what he called the "green channel".
Residents of Guangdong, Hunan, Fujian, Hainan and Jiangxi provinces as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region qualify for the expedited visa process. Among the selected tour operators are China International Travel Service, Shunde International Travel Service, Ctrip and Guangdong China Travel Service.
Through the tour operators, applicants can bypass the individual interviews required for visas. Their applications will have priority processing and visas will be issued within 48 to 72 hours. Normally, a visa is issued within six working days.
The green channel was established because of rapidly rising demand, Baldassarre said.
There were 57,000 visa applications to the Consulate-General of Italy in Guangzhou last year, a surge of 20 per cent from the previous year. Tourism visa applications made up three-quarters of last year's total, said Baldassarre, who added that 40 per cent of the tourism visa applications came from individuals.
Visa applications to the consulate-general this year have grown by 23 per cent over the same period last year.
Baldassarre said the number of applications is likely to grow in the near future if a deal is made with China Southern Airlines to open direct flights between Guangzhou and Rome.
He said the Universal Expo 2015 in Milan will likely draw more travelers, especially from China, to Italy next year because one of the main issues during the event will be food and food safety, a topic that is popular among Chinese citizens, he said.
With the so-called green channel, the Consulate-General of Italy in Guangzhou hopes to change the tourist's mindset that getting a visa is a hindrance to traveling.
Lin Peijin, director of the visa department of CTS Guangdong, welcomed the green channel, which, she said, should help enhance the travel agency's image and business. CTS Guangdong charges 400 yuan (S$82) to 500 yuan as commission for visa applications and could offer value-added services to those applying for individual tourism visas through the company, she said.
If the green channel goes smoothly, more travel agencies may be included in the programme, Baldassarre said.
The green channel in Guangzhou is in line with similar initiatives launched by the Italian Embassy in Beijing and the Italian Consulate-General in Shanghai. The expedited visa application process for Chinese travelers to Italy will begin in Chongqing later this year, Baldassarre said.