Despite the Home Office claiming that 284,000 visas were processed for Chinese visitors last year, tourism industry leaders still feel Britain is losing out on the country’s share of an estimated 100m Chinese tourists who now travel abroad and spend upwards of £60bn a year.
France upped the ante in the battle to attract the Chinese visitors with the unveiling this week of a fast-track 48-hour visa processing system, which Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said would “massively increase” the number of Chinese tourists visiting Paris and the rest of France.
Simon Thomas, owner of the Hippodrome casino in Leicester Square, told the Evening Standard newspaper: “We are entering The Year of the Horse, and in the race to attract Chinese tourists, France is galloping away and we’re not even out of the paddock”.
London Mayor Boris Johnson reacted to the news by urging “the Government to consider all possible measures to ensure London is in the best position to compete with our European rivals”.
Business Secretary Vince Cable admitted Britain was lagging behind France and Germany in attracting Chinese visitors who cite the visa regime as the problem. “There have been some improvements but we can’t allow ourselves to trail behind France in what some call the global race,” he said.
Currently, the Home Office insists that visitors from China must apply for a British visa as well as a Schengen visa that covers most of the European continent.
Asked to comment on the issue, Business Visits and Events Partnership Chairman, Michael Hirst, told CN: “There have been several announcements relating to improving the processing of visas for Chinese visitors, but what is needed is a radical overhaul of the system even taking certain categories of visitor out of the need to acquire a visa to visit the UK.
“On the other front though of improving trade with China, the Government is being extremely proactive with the Prime Minister visiting China with business leaders and other trade departments including UKTI increasing their activity. This in turn should lead to more business events taking place with Chinese businesses and UK businesses supplying China. That in itself will need a visa system that can respond rapidly to the inevitable increased demand for travel between the two countries.
“We continue to push the home Office to consider a Special Events visa for events where over 2,000 international delegates will attend. This should help speed up the processing time and afford visitors a special welcome with added marketing incentives.”
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