Airports want easier Chinese visas for the UK as Chinese spend so much at the airport
Airport owners and retailers claim Chinese tour operators are “striking Britain from their itineraries” because of the UK’s “cumbersome” visa system, which is costing the UK economy £1.2bn in lost tourist revenue. (They are not blaming APD). The Airport Operators Association and the UK Travel Retail Forum have written to 4 cabinet ministers, including George Osborne and Theresa May, outlining the problem. Airport operators and retailers say Chinese visitors spend 9 times the amount of US visitors passing through duty free. The airports etc want the Government to simplify the UK’s visa regime because at present, Chinese visitors view the UK’s visa system as “expensive, bureaucratic and lacking in transparency”, and it is easier to visit Europe (which can be done on just one visa, which is cheaper than the UK visa). Currently, Chinese nationals wishing to visit Britain on holiday have to get their fingerprints taken at one of 12 authorities in China. They also have to fill out a lengthy application form and pay more than if they were to visit the Schengen area of 26 European countries.
The airport owners and retailers seem to have forgotten to mention anything the Chinese tourists spend outside the airport, and impacts on the wider economy. This story is just what the aiports get out of it … There is a rebuttal from Home Secretary, Theresa Villiers
Chinese tour operators ‘striking Britain from itineraries’ over visa rules
Airport owners and retailers claim Chinese tour operators are “striking Britain from their itineraries” because of the UK’s “cumbersome” visa system, which is costing the UK economy £1.2bn in lost tourist revenue.
22 Feb 2013 (Telegraph)
The Airport Operators Association, which represents UK airports, and the UK Travel Retail Forum, representing airport shops, have written to four cabinet ministers outlining the problem, including George Osborne, the chancellor and Theresa May, the home secretary.
The letter urges the Government to simplify the country’s visa regime or risk Chinese tour operators sending tourists elsewhere in Europe – with easier access rules. At present, Chinese visitors view the UK’s visa system as “expensive, bureaucratic and lacking in transparency”, the letter warns.
Currently, Chinese nationals wishing to visit Britain on holiday have to get their fingerprints taken at one of 12 authorities in China. They also have to fill out a lengthy application form and pay more than if they were to visit the Schengen area of 26 European countries, including France and Italy.
Last year, the Government announced some changes intended to simplify the rules, including that the visa application form would be translated into Chinese from April. But businesses warn the changes do not go far enough. Fewer than 200,000 Chinese visitors came to the UK in 2011, the AOA said.
The AOA said Chinese passengers are by far the highest spenders in airport stores, spending nine times as much as US passengers.
Darren Caplan, AOA chief executive, said: “A key cause of this unwillingness to travel here is our visa system, which people view as expensive, cumbersome and bureaucratic. Yet we know that the average Chinese spends heavily when they do visit the UK, on average £1,600 per head, at least twice that of any other visiting nation.
“This represents a huge source of potential revenue for the Treasury, and a shot in the arm to the UK airports sector and travel industry.”
He said that liberalising the visa system could see billions of pounds a year extra flow into the British economy.
Sarah Branquinho, UK Travel Retail Forum chair, said: “Chinese visitors who overcome the hurdles to obtain a UK visa are inclined to spend substantially in our airport shops.
“This is evidence that, as well as being highly motivated to visit Britain, many Chinese are both affluent and discerning, displaying an appetite for brands and products with heritage and tradition – precisely those brands and products that our airport retailers are able to offer them. Accordingly, any increase in the number of visits the Chinese make to Britain would benefit this vibrant retail sector and the employment it generates.”
Retail spend at UK airport outlets accounts for a third of non-aeronautical revenue. The joint letter said: “This substantial contribution is vital to the ability of our airports to support their infrastructure investment and to maintain competitive aeronautical fees in the face of growing European competition.”
It added: “The only beneficiaries of our continuing reluctance to implement appropriate improvements to the system are our overseas competitors.”
The Home Office said it had already made changes to improve the UK’s visa system for Chinese nationals and was committed to making the system flexible.
Some 94% of applications for visas from Chinese nationals are successful, and in 2011, the UKBA processed 283,000 Chinese visas, a spokesman said.
He added that in the year to September 2012, the number of Chinese visitors to the UK rose by 7%
Related Telegraph Articles
- Relaxing Chinese visa rules would aid UK growth 19 Feb 2013
- Britain suffers from “PR problem” in China 13 Feb 2013
- Retailers set for Chinese shopping spree 08 Feb 2013
- Chinese visa rule leaves UK £1.5bn worse off 21 Dec 2012
- Chinese New Year shows potential of tourist spend in Britain 08 Feb 2013
- China trade picks up and inflation eases 08 Feb 2013
A HACAN publication exposing the myth that it is a lack of capacity at Heathrow that is the real deterrent to Chinese businesses investing in the UK
Visa red tape and cost are putting off Chinese visitors – not APD or a lack of runways
20 Feb 2013 (Home Office website)
Home Secretary Theresa May explains why Chinese visitors to the UK are increasing and how our visa system compares to Schengen countries.
‘Our Chinese visa system continues to provide an excellent service in terms of processing time, convenience and value for money. It is a service we can be proud of.
‘But the continued use of spurious figures and skewed perceptions of the way we run our visa system is damaging its reputation. And it is the very people who claim to be pro-growth who are guilty of spreading this harmful message.
Chinese visas: the facts
‘Let me give you the facts about our visa offer. We have seen strong and sustained growth in visitor numbers from China, issuing visas to more than 95 per cent of applicants – equating to more than 205,000 visit visas.
‘We require less documentation and have twice as many visa application centres as Schengen countries. On average our visa application form takes just 10 minutes to complete – and can be completed online. We already provide visa guidance in Mandarin and will be translating the form later this year. What’s more, a UK business visit visa costs just £10 more than a Schengen visa and offers far more flexibility, allowing multiple entries within six months, compared to the Schengen visa which allows only one entry.
‘This is hardly ‘complex and bureaucratic’, which is why 90 per cent of those who use the system are positive about the service.
‘There’s been much comparison between the UK and France. The truth is that the UK and France issue roughly the same number of visas. Simply joining Schengen is not a ‘silver bullet’ to getting more visitors.
‘The reason a Schengen visa is valid for 26 countries is because there are no border controls between these countries. Our controls in northern France and Belgium are key to ensuring that only those the UK wants are allowed to enter the UK. I do not believe that the British public want us to become part of the Schengen system. And I am not prepared to jeopardise the integrity of our borders.
‘After years of uncontrolled migration our visa system and borders must remain strong in order to prevent would-be illegal migrants. Collecting a biometric is vital to this, helping us to ‘lock’ an individual into an identity. Schengen countries do not require this added level of security, which is another reason why we cannot countenance joining them. In 2011 we stopped over 1000 people from illegally entering the UK as a direct result of biometric visas – and have deterred countless others.
Best and Brightest
‘This government remains committed to continuing to attract the brightest and best people to Britain while protecting our border and cutting down on the levels of abuse we saw in the past. The latest statistics show this is working. Net migration has fallen by a quarter while the number of talented and hard working people with the ability to drive forward growth increases.
‘We have listened to feedback and practical suggestions from business and tourist sectors and implemented changes.
‘The UK Government is committed to boosting the number of Chinese visitors.
‘To make the most of the vast opportunities in China requires a genuine joint effort between the UK government and business. Government is doing its part. Not only have we made improvements to the visa system, we have launched the first ever cross-government campaign to market the UK overseas. Working alongside the British Council and Visit Britain, theGREAT(Opens in a new window) campaign is our biggest ever investment in marketing the UK.
‘The debate on visas has gone on far too long with inaccuracies and untruths, and without consideration for the integrity of our borders. It is time for a sensible debate which considers both the economic benefit of visitors and the strength of our borders. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive – we can, and I believe, do achieve both.
‘We are open to the brightest and the best. We are open to visitors who want to enjoy all the wonderful sights and experiences this country offers.’