UK visa policy blamed for first decline in Chinese arrivals in five years
The number of Chinese visitors to Britain fell for the first time in five years last year, although total visitor arrivals went up by 5.2%.
The number of Chinese visitors to Britain fell for the first time in five years last year, by 4,000 people to a total of 233,000, although total visitor arrivals to Britain went up by 5.2%.
International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh described this as a failure of the British government’s effort to boost the number of Chinese visitors. “Not only did we not get the record arrivals from China we were hoping for so we also lost the opportunities to create more jobs and economic growth. The US has just introduced visas with 10-year validity for Chinese visitors, yet here in Britain we are merely making cosmetic changes to our outmoded visa system. What we really need is a drastic reform,” he said.
The president of China-Britain Business Council Stephen Phillips said: “I’ve heard that the number of visas issued is on the rise so the situation does not make sense. The only explanation I can think of is that there was a drop in Chinese official delegations due to the austerity measures.”
The number of Chinese visiting family and friends in the UK dropped by 35%, but the number of Chinese holidaymakers rose 18% to reach a total of 86,000.
Visit Britain said the increase was the result of the government’s investment of GBP 1.6 million in tourism marketing last year. “Visit Britain has recently launched a number of high profile campaigns targeting consumers in China. We believe that there will be a marked increase in the number of Chinese visitors on holiday in the UK this year and beyond.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has reiterated that Britain keeps its door open to Chinese investment, and the British government has set the goal of attracting 650,000 Chinese visitor arrivals bringing GBP1.1 billion expenditure by 2020.
Data of UK China Visa Alliance show that 90% of Europe-bound Chinese tour groups skipped non-Schengen member state Britain, leading to a loss of GBP200 million potential revenue every year. In a move to simplify the visa process, British Home Secretary Theresa May announced last summer that Chinese visitors could apply for UK visa on the same website for applying Schengen visa.
Yet this is only a partial solution and Chinese visitors are still required to submit biometric data to a separate UK visa center in addition to the Schengen requirements. Meanwhile, business organizations are disappointed by the lack of any new UK government initiatives to support corporate travelers. In response, the UK government has pledged to implement a fast-track 24-hour visa application system for affluent Chinese corporate travelers.(Translation by David)