The Olympic Games caused a surge in popularity in UK tourism but cumbersome visa restrictions are preventing greater numbers from coming say retail bosses.
12 October 2012
UK visa rate drop during Olympics turns up pressure on Government
The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics have shown that UK visa numbers for foreign tourists during the London Olympics dropped compared to last year, putting further pressure on the Government to relax tourist visa restrictions.
The Office for National Statistics' latest report showed the number of foreign tourists visiting the UK during August, while the Olympic Games were in full flow, fell 5% compared to the same time last year, a drop which is being blamed on arduous UK visa restrictions.
International airline groups last month complained about the prolonged application process Chinese visitors have to endure to visit the UK, a complaint which was quickly echoed by the retail industry.
The UK visa application currently involves a 25 page form available only in English. In contrast, the Schengen visa application, which allows the holder to visit 26 European countries, is just eight pages long. As a consequence, France welcomes eight times as many Chinese tourists.
In the wake of the latest figures, retail chiefs have stepped up their complaints and urged the Government to allow more Chinese visitors, who have consistently been shown to spend more on holiday than any other nationality, to visit the UK.
"A 5% drop in overseas tourists to the UK during the most momentous year in the history of British tourism is very disappointing news," said Grant Hearn, chief executive of Travelodge.
"However, all is not lost, we still have a golden opportunity within our grasp, as long as the Government takes action and does what it pledged to do - which is to use this extraordinary year to turbo-charge our tourism industry."
Mr Hearn's concerns were echoed by Nick Varney, head of Alton Towers theme park, who warned the UK was at risk of wasting the opportunity the Olympics has offered.
"The Olympics has done a great job for this country's image," said Mr Varney.
"There are lots of people who want to come here but the visa regulations are onerous and costly."
Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says the Government should have been better prepared to capitalise on the success of the Olympic Games.
"The Olympic Games were an unexpected runaway success and reignited interest in everything British," said Ms Murdock.
"The Government has a genuine concern of people entering on tourist visas and then failing to leave, but better policing is always possible and a change is clearly needed.
"There are thousands upon thousands of wealthy Chinese visitors desperate to visit the UK, keeping them out, especially during difficult economic times is tantamount to cutting off your nose to spite your face."
The UK Visa Bureau is an independent immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.