Friday 1 February 2013

Britain’s doors are only partly open to Chinese tourists

Chinese tourists are getting tangled in British visa red tape, so large numbers are heading to the Continent instead.

Britain is losing out on an estimated £1.2bn each year form a loss of Chinese tourist trade, as tourists are flocking to other European countries like France and Germany who have “easier” entry rules and requirements. In 2011 according to figures from the World Tourism Organisation around 1.1m Chinese visited France, 637,000 to Germany and only 149,000 to Britain. The spending power of Chinese tourists and the resulting impact on the UK economy is undisputed, especially when you consider that on Boxing Day alone they spent £1,310 per sale compared to £120 by the average British shopper. This would instantly benefit the British retail sector, as well as having knock-on benefits for the hospitality and transport industries.

Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: “It is clearly a good thing for visitors to come to a country and spend their money. Products are sold, services are bought and jobs are created as a result.”

UK Visa Red Tape

Any Chinese National wanting to come to Britain has to first get their fingerprints taken, fill out a nine page document in English and pay £80 for a visa. This all has to be done in one of the 12 application centres across China. By contrast, the simpler “Schengen” visa allows access to 25 continental European Countries, with one short visa application and no fingerprints required and costs just £47, hence the discrepancy in the numbers.

Higher Education

Not only is the cumbersome visa process reducing the number of tourists to the UK, migration targets are damaging the reputation of one of our export strengths; Higher Education. Numerous chairmen of parliamentary committees have written to the Prime Minister urging him to remove overseas student numbers from migration targets. These students are not only providing short term economic benefit whilst they are studying, but they need to be viewed as our trading partners of the future. We as a country need to grow and cultivate our business links with the undeniable economic power house that is China.

Relaxing the Restrictions

The government has announced that as of April this year the visa application will be shortened and translated into Chinese. Is this sufficient? Visa policies are of course meant to protect our national security but they are also meant to encourage and facilitate legitimate trade and commerce across borders. The Telegraph Media Group is launching a campaign to urge the Government to relax the rules further. Along with the visa restrictions, limited aviation connections to many emerging cities in China are making it even harder for Chinese tourists, investors and students to come to the UK.

Simplifying the visa process is in the best interest of British trade, competitiveness and future growth. If we get this wrong we could very well lose the global race for Chinese commerce, investment, spending and talent.


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