11 March 2009

Concerns new visa rules will affect UK tourism

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The new system for UK immigration that is intended to tighten border security and protect British jobs for British workers is predicted to also cause some damage – to the tourism industry.

As of this month, five countries had their visa-waiver agreements removed, meaning that passport holders from those countries now have to apply for a UK visa in order to transit through the UK and visit for purposes of tourism or seeing family and friends.

These countries include South Africa, Bolivia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Venezuela. 

According to Travelmole.com, Tom Jenkins, executive director for the European Tour Operators Association, said that the visa changes would mean less tourists would choose the UK as their destination, and the tourism industry would be at risk of losing one of its biggest visitor market.

Over 400,000 South Africans land in Britain every year, and under the new rules they will all have to apply for a UK visa, even if it is just to use the UK as a transit stopover.  In 2007, the numbers of South Africans visiting the UK comprised 168,000 tourists, 132,000 returning after absence abroad, 46,200 business travellers, 52,800 in transit, and 2,890 with work permits plus their 1,190 dependants.  The Border Agency refused over one thousand South Africans from entering the UK.

Mr Jenkins said that now the UK is considered an optional route to Europe, it would start to become more isolated as a tourism destination.

"As recently as 10 years ago, London was the gateway for people coming in from long-haul origin markets who wanted to see Europe. Nearly everybody arrived in London and left from London," Mr Jenkins said.

"Now, we are seeing most of the long-haul tour operators use a variety of gateway cities throughout the continent.  London is seen as an add-on.

"The industry is very concerned that the visas exist.  The price of the visa is a small matter when compared with the inconvenience and humiliation involved in applying for a visa."

Despite this, other key markets such as Taiwan have now been granted visa-free status, meaning the opening up of visa-free travel to other countries could counterbalance the loss of visitor markets from these five countries.

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

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