Businesses have warned that the UK is in danger of losing out on an even greater number of high-spending Chinese tourists to rival economies on the continent, as the European Commission seeks to speed up and simplify the Schengen visa application process.
The European Commission has just unveiled a raft of proposals to make it easier for legitimate tourists and business people from countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia to visit countries which are part of the 26-nation Schengen agreement. The UK is not a member.
The Commission believes the plans, which include reducing the maximum amount of time to process a visa from 15 days to 10 and simplifying the application form, could encourage an increase of up to 60pc in trips to Schengen nations from China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the Ukraine.
This could deliver a €130bn boost (£108bn) over five years, according to the EC, and generate an additional 1.3m jobs in tourism and other related industries.
Businesses operating in the UK have long campaigned to update the UK’s own visa rules for visitors from China in particular, who are now the highest spending tourists in the world, according to a study by the UN World Tourism Organisation.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, responded in the autumn with proposals to improve the UK system, including a pilot programme that allows selected Chinese travel agents to apply for a UK visa using the Schengen form, but companies have continued to raise concerns about how Britain is missing out on vital tourist pounds.
According to the UK China Visa Alliance, a coalition of tourism companies and retailers, nine out of ten Chinese visitors to Europe only apply for one visa and the overwhelming majority, 82pc, opt for a Schengen visa.
Companies fear the proposed improvements to Schengen, which also include allowing online applications and a new “touring visa” allowing trips of up to a year, could drive even more business to competitor countries in Europe.
British Airways’ parent, International Airlines Group, said: “Europe is opening its doors to high spending Chinese visitors. Our European competitors understand that they bring wealth and investment. While the UK claims to be ‘open for business’ it makes it very hard and expensive for the Chinese to do business here. This is costing us jobs and growth.”
Simon Vincent, president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, at hotels giant Hilton Worldwide, said: “It’s vital that Britain can compete with the Schengen countries for overseas visitors and this announcement underpins yet again why improvements to the UK visa system are so important. These need to be driven through quickly and effectively so that the UK does not lose valuable tourism business in a sector worth well in excess of £100bn per year.”
Three of the comments under the article:
The UK is one of the top destinations in the world because it is a great place to visit for so many reasons. Do we really believe that we need to make it even more easy than it already is to get a tourist visa to maintain our popularity? Do we want to be the McDonalds of tourism? We have more history and value than most countries, let’s not sell it cheap. Visitors appreciate the quality of our offer and will make an effort to be here.
The alternative, as we all well know, is hundreds of thousands of people arriving in the UK on Schengen visas and never returning. That’s why we’re not in it. I don’t believe it damages tourism. If it does it’s a small price to pay. By the way, getting a Schengen visa is no picnic.
Half the time we are complaining that the UK borders are too lax and half that we are missing out because we are making them too tight. Probability is that we have them about right
More about the Schengen visa system:
The Schengen Visa has made traveling between its 25 (26?) member countries (22 European Union states and 3 non-EU members) much easier and less bureaucratic. Traveling on a Schengen Visa means that the visa holder can travel to any (or all) member countries using one single visa, thus avoiding the hassle and expense of obtaining individual visas for each country. This is particularly beneficial for persons who wish to visit several European countries on the same trip. The Schengen visa is a “visitor visa”. It is issued to citizens of countries who are required to obtain a visa before entering Europe.
The purpose of the visit must be leisure, tourism, or business. Upon the issuance of the visa, the visa holder is allowed to enter all member countries and travel freely throughout the Schengen area. It is strongly recommended to plan your journey within the timeframe of the Schengen Visa as extensions can be very difficult to obtain, thus forcing you to leave to stay in compliance with the Schengen rules and regulations. A Schengen visa allows the holder to travel freely within the Schengen countries for a maximum stay of up to 90 days in a 6 month period. The first step in the application process is to Apply theSchengen Application Guide.
Visa policies and high air taxes are ‘inhibiting’ Britain
A report from the World Travel & Tourism Council claims the UK is not taking the potential of the travel and tourism industry “seriously enough”
By Nathalie Thomas, Leisure and Transport Correspondent (Telegraph)
19 Mar 2014
Britain’s “prohibitive” visa regime for tourists and the Government’s inertia over vital infrastructure projects are “seriously damaging” the economy, according to a major report published ahead of the Budget.
Policies such as Air Passenger Duty and the visa processing system for Chinese visitors have come under attack from the World Travel & Tourism Council, (WTTC) which accuses Downing Street of not taking the tourism industry “seriously enough”.
Its report, which charts the contribution made by the tourism industry to economies around the world, concludes that damaging policies in the UK, also including high levels of VAT for hotels and restaurants, are “inhibiting” Britain.
The travel and tourism industry, which includes everything from airlines to cultural attractions, made a direct contribution of £57.3bn to the UK economy last year, 3.5pc of the country’s total GDP, according to the WTTC’s 2014 Economic Impact report.
If the benefit to suppliers is included, that contribution rises to £170.5bn, according to the WTTC, or 10.5pc of UK GDP.
However, the council warns that growth in the UK’s travel and tourism sector is likely to slow this year, to 2.8pc from 3.4pc in 2013, as high taxes on air travel and visa policies hold Britain back.
David Scowsill, president and chief executive of the WTTC, also warns that proscrastination over infrastructure schemes, such as new runways and the HS2 rail link, are damaging the UK’s ability to compete for vital income from the global travel and tourism trade, which is worth $7 trillion (£4.2 trillion).
The WTTC has assessed 184 countries as part of its research and is in a unique position to compare policies in the UK with those elsewhere in the world.
Mr Scowsill said: “The UK is not taking the potential of travel and tourism seriously enough and is losing out [on] vital income and potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs at a time when creating employment opportunities for young people is vital.
“A composite of issues are contributing to a quelling of demand: Air Passenger Duty is the highest air tax in the world; the Government has ruled out a lower VAT rate for hotels and restaurants; a lack of long-term planning in airport infrastructure; and restrictive visa policies.
“This means the UK is losing out on potential visitors to some of its European competitors, who are implementing more forward-thinking policies.”
Mr Scowsill compared the UK’s tortuous debate over where to build extra runway capacity in the south-east of England – which won’t produce a decision until 2015 – with China’s infrastructure policies.
“They are busy building 69 new airports in China over the next five to 10 years so that no person in China will be living more than a 90-minute drive from an airport.”
He added: “The UK is not good at taking long-term infrastructure decisions.”
Mr Scowsill also warned Britain is still missing out on its “rightful share” of Chinese tourists – the highest-spending travellers in the world – compared with rival economies such as France and Germany. He said the UK’s visa processing regime remains uncompetitive compared with the Schengen system, which allows entry to 26 nations in the European Union but not Britain, despite improvements announced last year by the Chancellor, George Osborne.
The improvements, which included a pilot scheme allowing some Chinese travel agents to use Schengen forms to apply for UK visas, are a step in the right direction, Mr Scowsill said, but he added that visas remain a “real constraining factor” for Chinese visitors coming to the UK.