London’s businesses look set to welcome a wave of new Chinese tourists after a move to streamline the visa process is revealed in a matter of weeks.
Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, will visit China in the next fortnight to announce a change, the Evening Standard understands.
The move will streamline the process to allow Chinese tourists to apply for a British visa alongside a single European Union visa in a parallel process. At the moment potential Chinese visitors must apply separately for the UK and European versions in a lengthy process which pushes many visitors to only visit the 25 European countries that come under the Schengen Agreement, leaving out a trip to the UK to save time and money.
Chinese visitors to the UK reached 150,000 last year, spending £240 million with shopping and cultural sights top of their list. But experts think many more could visit if the visa process was simplified.
The expected announcement comes as a group of London businesses set off for China to drum up interest from high-spending Chinese tourists. Arsenal Football Club, The Shard, John Lewis and London’s Burlington Arcade have signed up for the first time to take part in VisitBritain’s latest mission to the Far East. They will join a delegation including retailers Harrods and Selfridges.
Keith Beecham, China mission leader and VisitBritain’s director of overseas, said: “Everyone now recognises that China is a hugely important market for tourism and these business trips will help us achieve our target of welcoming 382,000 Chinese visitors by 2020.”
The group will visit top Chinese travel agents and attend seminars to sell their businesses to future tourists.
Despite the planned move to relax the visa process, Joseph Wan, chief executive at department store Harvey Nichols, said: “While streamlining clearly demonstrates a move in the right direction the government should really think about the journey that a Chinese visitor has to make for a visa. At the moment that journey is awful. We still need more practical changes such as increasing the number of locations for Chinese tourists to apply.”