The European Tour Operators Association claims Britain is losing 'hundreds of millions' with a convoluted UK visa application.
16 May 2012
UK visa complexity turns tourists off
A report by the European Tour Operators Association (EOTA) has claimed that international tourists are put off by the complexity of a UK visa application.
Research by EOTA claims that the convoluted UK visa application process costs the British economy hundreds of millions of pounds each year in potential tourists who are persuaded to visit other countries with easier visa applications.
The report cites cost as one of the main influencing factors in where tourists decide to go; the UK tourist visa currently allows holders to visit the UK and Ireland for approximately £80 while a Schengen visa allows holders to visit the 26 countries involved in the Schengen Agreement for just €60 (£47.90).
A UK visa application is currently eight pages long, compared to just three for a Schengen visa, and applicants are often required to attend interviews at embassies or consulates which can be hundreds of miles away or even in another country.
The application also has to be completed in English, unlike Chinese and Russian applications which do not have to be completed in Chinese characters or Cyrillic.
EOTA reports that over a quarter of Indian tourists and 30% of Chinese tourists applying for a UK visa abandoned their application due to complications in the application process; as a result, France now welcomes over 50% more Indian tourists than the UK.
The UK's reputation as a tourist destination has been marred in recent weeks due to UK immigration difficulties at the border but EOTA contends that border queues should be taken as just a factor in Britain’s problems, with visa issues being the prominent issue.
"Images of queues at Heathrow damage the UK, they make the prospect of a visit here tiresome and unattractive," said Tom Jenkins, executive director at EOTA. "The damage done by this is major but it is short term; it can be fixed quickly.
"The damage done by our visa regime takes place thousands of miles away, where the clients are, in the origin markets. These markets, such as India, China and Indonesia are of enormous long-term importance to our strategic growth as a destination. They are being lost."
America has taken steps in recent months to reduce visa processing time for potential tourists, including adding more consulate staff and removing the necessity for repeat applicants to go through the whole process again and Mr Jenkins believes similar steps should be taken in Britain.
"The current Government is making efforts to improve the speed and experience of obtaining a UK visa. Given the benefits to jobs and investment, this should have the highest priority."
The UK Visa Bureau is an independent immigration consultancy specialising in helping people apply for a UK visa.