Under May’s proposals, Chinese tourists would be able to apply for a tourist visa to the UK using the same application form used by the ‘Schengen’ group of European Union nations which includes France, Germany, Italy and Spain (but excludes the UK and Ireland).
Currently, Chinese tourists are allowed to visit any member of the Shengen group on a single visa, but they have to apply for a visa using a separate system if they want to enter the UK.
The BHA, together with support from the UKCVA, the CBI, Institute of Directors and the British Chamber of Commerce, has been proactively lobbying this issue, campaigning for swift visa reform and highlighting the negative impacts that the current system is having on the economy.
Chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said the organisation is ‘engouraged’ by May’s latest announcement.
She said: “By 2023, China will be the largest outbound tourism economy in the world. Therefore, the opportunity for Britain to grow tourism receipts and jobs is unmissable. However, steps need to be taken now to ensure that we demonstrate a welcome to the Chinese traveller in time to compete for this significant market opportunity on an international scale.
“Our competitors France and Germany, are also not going to stand still. They have already demonstrated their keenness to succeed the UK in the bid to grow Tourism exports and jobs. So, the BHA, together with the UKCVA and its growing number of partners, is encouraged by Theresa May’s announcement.
“We also note that the UK Visa’s and Immigration Service is making improvements to ensure that some 96 per cent of all Chinese visas are approved and that there is now a seven day and five-day premium turnaround service from application to issue.
“However, we will continue to campaign on this issue until further changes are made to enable Chinese as well as Russian and Indian visitor numbers to start increasing in line with other European countries.”
According to the UNWTO, China is the world's third-largest tourism spender. In 2012, spend by Chinese tourists abroad jumped by over 42 per cent to a total of £6.7bn. The EU, including the UK's competitors France and Germany, welcomed more than a million visitors from China last year, compared to the UK's 215,000. The UK's estimated loss to competitors was £1.2bn of Chinese tourism receipts.
At the BHA’s annual Summit in June 2013, Ning Ning Yu, President of China International Travel Services, commented on this issue and made the point that in 2012 only 149,000 Chinese visitors came to the UK - five times more people visited Australia, which has a longer flight time.
She proposed three ways to boost Chinese visitor numbers to the UK:
- Reform the tourist visa application process
- Deliver an efficient tax refund process at all UK airports
- Provide a warm welcome with Chinese language signage at London airports
Ning Ning Yu concluded that until the UK Government improves the access to UK for Chinese tourists there is limited opportunity to bring groups here.
May promised to review the existing visa legislation earlier this year, following lobbying from a consortium of British businesses and a warning from Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, that ‘Britain simply can’t afford to miss out’ on wealthy Chinese immigrants and tourists deterred by red tape.
“China is the new economic superpower and we must treat its re-emergence with respect: as an opportunity rather than a threat,” said Cable. “Our future prosperity will depend on it.
“If we are serious about trading more with countries such as China, then we must make sure our borders are as open as possible to genuine tourism, business visitors, investment and trade."