09 June 2009

Brits looking to introduce UK visa for Chinese tourists

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While the Home Office is busily tightening UK visa schemes to protect British borders from those looking to abuse it, the British Embassy in China is barracking for the widening of the UK visa program for Chinese tourists.

Currently, instead of having relaxed access to the UK visa system, Chinese tourists are taking advantage of the Schengen visa system that allows them to travel 15 European countries on the one visa type, including the UK's major tourism competitors (Spain, Germany, France and Italy).

The Chinese tourism market is one of the fastest growing in the world, and the British Embassy in Shanghai has put value on expanding the UK visa system to tap into the Chinese tourism market in the European continent.

According to The Telegraph, Carma Elliot, consul-general in Shanghai, said: "Most Chinese tourists want to go on a continental tour. We cannot currently capture that. But we are busily exploring the options... whether we could offer visas as part of a wider European tour."

While many other countries around the world are revelling in increased traffic from Chinese tourism, the British tourism operators are complaining that UK visa troubles are preventing them from benefiting from the full potential of the Chinese tourist market.  They say, the need for a UK visa and the rise in fee for that UK visa is causing Chinese tourists to stay on the European mainland and defer from Britain.

Businesses at a London conference expressed their concern last week, saying that while Chinese visitors were visiting more for purposes of business than pleasure.  Figures from Visit Britain clearly exemplify the tourist market UK tour operators are missing out on because of UK visa troubles; in 2007 around three quarters of a million Chinese visitors toured France, compared with 150,000 in the UK. 

A spokesperson from Visit Britain said that the market is a gold resource and that the tourism industry has for some time been barracking for UK visa changes.

"China for us is a growth market. They are willing to travel," he said.

Alastair Morgan, UK Trade and Investment director for China, shared the spokesperson's sentiments about the UK visa issue for Chinese travellers.

"We think there's a lot of future potential for tourism from China. But at the moment we have far more business visitors. We would like the UK to be performing better like France and Italy."

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in UK visa and immigration services.

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