The changes, announced on 16 June, include a fast-track application service, and mean Chinese visitors to the European Union will not need to apply for a separate UK visa.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The number of Chinese people coming to Britain to visit and do business is soaring. They already enjoy a first-rate visa service and these changes will ensure it is easier than ever before to visit the UK and see first-hand everything this great country has to offer."
The announcement was welcomed by Martin Couchman OBE, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA). He said: "We welcome the Home Secretary's confirmation that the pilot scheme allowing Chinese visitors booking with approved tour operators to complete one form for both Schengen and UK visas is to be made open to all visitors to the UK. There is more to be done to incease the UK's share of this important outbound market, but progress is being made."
Simon Vincent, executive vice president and resident, Europe, Middle East and Africa at Hilton Worldwide, added: “China has predicted that the number of overseas trips made by Chinese travellers is set to double to 200 million in the next four years – but last year only 200,000 of these visitors came to the UK. This week’s announcement regarding greater alignment with the Schengen application process represents a step forward in helping Britain to meet the clear opportunity presented by Chinese travellers.
“We welcome the efforts being made and, following this latest news, look forward to continuing to work with Government to further promote Britain’s long term international competitiveness and in so doing, spur economic growth.”
Fastest-growing visitor nation
Though China is the UK’s 28th market in terms of number of visits, it is the 19th in terms of visitor spend. Chinese visitors’ spend in the UK has been growing at an average pace of 44 per cent per year since 2009, reaching £491.7m in 2013. The number of visits grew 9.7 per cent to a record 196,000 in the same year.
The average spend per Chinese visit was £2,508 in 2013, in stark contrast with the average spent across all markets, which sits at £640.
Mike Saul, head of hospitality and leisure at Barclays, pointed out: “This news will be warmly welcomed by the UK hospitality and leisure sector and comes hot on the heels of recent Barclays research which reports that Chinese visitors to our shores are expected to spend over £1bn by 2017, up 84 per cent on 2013. With increasing disposable incomes among their burgeoning middle classes, Chinese tourists’ spend in the UK looks set to outstrip that of countries like the USA and Germany in terms of growth over the next few years.”
Because they come from far away, Chinese visitors to the UK also tend to stay longer than other nations, with over half of them staying between four and 15+ nights. London accounts for 58 per cent of all visits. Other popular destinations include Manchester, Edinburgh, Oxford, Glasgow and Cambridge.
Two-fifths of Chinese holiday visits to Britain are part of multi-country tours, and there are three times as many holiday visits take place between July and September than at any other time of year.
Patricia Yates, director of Strategy and Communications at VisitBritain, said: “Chinese tourists are already coming to Britain in record numbers and staying here longer than our European neighbours. Today’s welcome changes build on the already significant improvements introduced previously by the Home Office.
“Recent streamlining of the visa processing has made a big difference, with Chinese visitor spending up a record 64% to nearly half a billion pounds.”
5-minute guide: Chinese visitors to the UK
Details of the visa changes
- A new streamlined visa service is to be offered to all Chinese visitors to the UK.
- A more efficient system cutting down paperwork and red tape will make it easier for Chinese people to visit the UK and Europe on the same trip.
- A new 24-hour visa service for Chinese visitors will be launched in August.
- From the autumn, Chinese visitors will be able to use an Irish visitor visa to travel to the UK, without the need for a separate UK visa, and vice versa.