20 February 2013

Government pressured over UK visa stance

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The Government's UK visa policies have come under pressure in recent days from business bodies who advocate a range of solutions.

UK visa

The president of the WTTC has urged the UK to join the Schengen Agreement which allows tourists to visit the highlighted countries with a single visa.

Despite being a part of the European Union, the UK is not part of the Schengen Visa program, which allows holders to visit 26 European countries with just one visa. Instead, certain tourists require an individual UK visa - a requirement many have blamed on relatively poor tourism rates.

The UK ranks as one of the highest options on many tourists' lists of desired destinations yet welcomes just a fractional amount compared to some of its European neighbours. At the start of what has been dubbed the Asian Century, Chinese tourists have become most countries' - including the UK - primary target yet France welcomes nine times as many Chinese tourists a year than the UK - and this has been blamed on onerous visa requirements.

The UK visa application is only available in English and is over 20 pages long - in comparison, the Schengen Visa application is just eight pages long, is available in other languages and can be had for a similar fee as the UK visa - yet it allows the holder to visit 26 countries.

In a time of poor economic performance in the UK, Richard Solomons, head of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), says cutting red tape in visa applications for Chinese tourists could provide the boost the economy needs.

"The UK is the number one destination that Chinese tourists want to come to and it's not even in the top 10 of the most visited countries," said Mr Solomons.

"Why is that? Because we have a visa system that is extremely difficult to navigate and restrictive.

"Practical things like [simplifying the rules], the Government can do tomorrow to help put this economy back on the path to growth."

The head of IHG, which owns brands including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, says the US faced similar obstacles which it has already moved to combat and the UK faces being left behind.

"The US is making some progress on it and what we don't want is travellers getting into the habit of going to places other than the UK because it's too difficult to come here."

While Mr Solomons' concerns may be abated by relaxing visa rules, David Scowsill, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council says the UK should do away altogether with its own tourism visa regime and simply join the Schengen Visa to capitalise on Chinese tourism.

"China’s economy is growing faster than any other. Yet, the UK is currently losing out on thousands of Chinese tourists to our nearby neighbours because Chinese tourists face higher fees and have to complete a longer application form than if they want to visit most other countries in Europe," said Mr Scowsill.

"Chinese outbound travellers totalled 84 million last year and the UK receives only a small fraction of them.

"It’s time for Britain to become part of the Schengen system that offers Chinese visitors t


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