UK to ease visa procedures for Chinese visitors

25 Nov 2011

The British government is taking significant steps to ease visa processes for Chinese tourists in order to tap into the Mainland’s lucrative outbound market.

The move comes in light of recent research revealing that Britain is in fact falling behind its European counterparts as a leisure and business hot spot (see story here) due to a combination of reasons.

According to the study titled How The Rise of Chinese Tourism Will Change The Face of the European Travel Industry by Hilton Hotels and Resorts and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) the total number of Chinese outbound tourists reached 57.39 million in 2010, overtaking Japan as the largest outbound tourist market in Asia, of which 3 million travelled to Europe. Despite the halo effect of the Royal Wedding earlier this year and the forthcoming 2012 Olympics, the UK only received 150,000 of those Chinese visitors in 2011 where as France, Italy and Germany received between 500,000 and 700,000 visitors in 2010.

One of the main logistical hindrances is the UK’s slightly cumbersome visa procedure for Chinese tourists, which is set to be streamlined and enhanced in time for the 2012 Olympics, said Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications at Britain’s national tourism agency, VisitBritain. “There is an ongoing discussion about how we can keep our borders safe but make Britain as welcome as we can for next year,” said Yates.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport released a new Tourism Policy in March this year that pinpoints the main issues with visa procedures and proposes ways of eliminating them, such as rolling out guidance notes in foreign languages for application forms and putting applications online for Chinese visitors. At present, it is only possible to book an appointment with a UK Border Agency office in China online rather than fill out the form itself.

Another issue is the fact that the UK is not part of the Schengen catchment area, meaning visitors have to apply for an additional visa. “We have to persuade visitors from China that it is worth applying for the extra visa and that’s not even in money terms but in terms of time and process,” said Yates. To lower that hurdle, the 12 UK Border Agency offices across key Chinese cities try to process applications as soon as possible. “We don’t do ourselves any favours in the way we report our processing time because we say that 90 percent of applications are done within 15 days” when actually visas can be turned around within three to five days, claims Yates.

The study cited above also outlines that Chinese travellers have high service expectations. To address this, the Tourism Policy strives to “improve tourists’ first experience of the UK when they land at our ports and airports by cutting passport control queues with more e-Passport gates,” alongside improving the hotel star rating system to ensure high standards.

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Alisha Haridasani

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