Hilton Worldwide hopes Border Agency split will simplify tourist visa process

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Simon Vincent, president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Hilton Worldwide, has welcomed the Home Office's plans to split the UK Border Agency - image copyright Hilton Worldwide 2013
Simon Vincent, president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Hilton Worldwide, has welcomed the Home Office's plans to split the UK Border Agency - image copyright Hilton Worldwide 2013
Simon Vincent, the European president of hotel operator Hilton Worldwide, has welcomed the Home Office's decision to split the responsibilities of the UK Border Agency and has called on the Government to use the move to simplify the visa process for tourists visiting the UK.

The Home Secretary Theresa May shocked MPs this week when she announced she was scrapping the troubled agency and would instead replace it with two bodies focusing separately on visas and immigration law enforcement.

Unlike the UK Border Agency (UKBA), both parts will report directly to Government.

"By creating two entities instead of one, we will be able to create distinct cultures," said May, as she addressed Parliament this week. "First, a high-volume service that makes high-quality decisions about who comes here, with a culture of customer satisfaction for businessmen and visitors who want to come here legally.

"And second, an organisation that has law enforcement at its heart and gets tough on those who break our immigration laws," she added.

International travel

Vincent, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) president at Hilton Worldwide, has welcomed the move and said it has the potential to further improve the visa system for tourists and in turn boost the UK hospitality industry.

"We welcome this latest announcement and the Home Secretary’s comments that the Government’s visa operation could and should get better still," he commented. "Many countries are recognising the economic and employment benefits of international travel and tourism by making secure and convenient travel a policy priority."

Leading UK hotel industry figures have consistently called on the Government to reform its visa policy which they say is 'deterring' potential tourists, from China in particular,​ because of the complications and difficulties in applying for a visa.

However in January, the UKBA said 94 per cent of Chinese visitors who applied for a visa got one. It also claimed the 'vast majority' of Chinese visitors to the UK spoke 'highly' of the visa service.

Simplified

According to Hilton Worldwide, recent changes by the US Government, which has worked to reduce visa processing times, have led to Hilton's USA hotels enjoying a 51 per cent increase in the total number of nights booked by Chinese visitors since August 2012.

Vincent is now hoping the Government's UKBA reforms will enable the new body to introduce similar changes and remove a blockage to growth. “This new entity must be used to promote tourism and business development, separately to the administration managing concerns over national security and immigration.

"It is clear that the visa regime for those visiting the UK must be simplified and there are some immediate changes the Government could make," he suggested.

Points on Vincent's checklist for the new body include: improving the online visa application process, making visa guidance available in more languages and allowing 'trusted allies' to share visa centres and application processes. 

This week's changes are not the first time in recent years that the UKBA will have faced radical reform. Last year the UK Border Force stopped being part of the agency.

May blamed the size of the agency, lack of transparency and accountability, inadequate IT systems and a tough policy and legal framework on the problems which have led to the announced split in responsibilities.

Related topics: Business, People, Legislation, Hotels

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