13 December 2012
Home Secretary Theresa May is to simplify the visa application process to make it easier for Chinese visitors to holiday in the UK.
In a speech today, which was flagged up last month by sports and tourism minister Hugh Robertson (see earlier story), May signaled the introduction of a less demanding regime for Chinese tourists and students.
This includes a shortened online application form, with translated forms available from April 2013, dedicated Embassy staff to help business travellers with their applications, and the option for applicants to keep their passports while visas are processed.
Tourism body VisitBritain welcomed the announcement, saying it would attract more Chinese visitors. Its recent research found that 61% of Chinese people who chose not to come to Britain were put off by the visa process. The application forms are currently in English, rather than Mandarin.
"We welcome today's announcement that there will be further enhancements made to make the visa application process as simple and smooth as possible for Chinese visitors looking to come to Britain," said the body's director of strategy and communications.
"The introduction of shorter and translated application forms, as well as reduce documentary requirements is extremely welcome as these were identified by VisitBritain as areas where the UK could improve its visa service to out compete those of the Schengen member states, as well as Australia and the USA. In addition, we are pleased to support UKBA's efforts by adding a visa module to our BritAgent programme, which provides training to tour operators and travel agents in China.
"China is a key growth market for international tourism and a market in which Britain needs to compete effectively to ensure that we continue to be in the top 10 of tourism destinations. Improvements in the visa process will support our ambition to attract 40 million visitors a year by 2020 and we have been working closely with UKBA to inform their thinking."
Britain attracted around 149,000 visits from China last year, up 35% on 2010, but it was outperformed by European rivals such as France and Germany.
VisitBritain is looking to increase this to 382,000 visits by 2020. As Chinese visitors spend around three times as much as other visitors, it said that anything that could be done to attract more Chinese tourists would be a welcome boost for the economy.
Travelodge chief executive Grant Hearn said: "The initiatives introduced today will play a significant part in helping our economy recover, whilst creating new jobs, boosting growth and helping put Great Britain back on the world-wide tourist map."