A top John Lewis board member has been selected to lead a campaign by British businesses to encourage more Chinese tourists to visit Britain.
Andrew Murphy, who is the retail director for the partnership company and has been with them since 1992, was announced as chairman of the UK Chinese Visa Alliance (UKCVA) this morning.
The lobbying group boasts partners including British Airways, Selfridges and Westfield, and says it is working with the Home Office to ease visa regulations which, as they stand, encourage Chinese tourists to visit the rest of Europe instead.
UKCVA says that there are now more than one million Chinese millionaires, and that Britain’s failure to attract these affluent consumers means we are missing out on around £1.2 billion a year of spending.
Under the Schengen agreement, a tourist from China can visit 26 European countries with just a single visa. The UK is not party to that agreement, and the UKCVA’s research suggests that only 7 per cent of visitors to Europe from the Far-East nation make the effort to go through more than one visa application process.
As a result, around 82 per cent of Chinese tourists opt for a Schengen visa. Home Office statistics quoted by the UKCVA indicate around five times more of these were issued than UK visas in 2011.
In London, the business improvement district for the West End estimated that Chinese visitors spend nearly three times as much on a trip there than the average overseas visitor, at almost £1,700 per person.
This morning the UKCVA announced on Twitter: “Andrew Murphy Retail Director @johnlewisretail has been appointed Chairman of the UK China Visa Alliance #chinavisa #tourism”.
And Mr Murphy told the Telegraph: “The Chinese consumer is by far the largest spender among overseas visitors to the UK, and that spend is a vital area of growth if we are to remain globally competitive as a visitor destination.
“Whilst incremental steps have been taken, the UKCVA believes more must be done by the Government to ensure that the UK attracts its fair share of Chinese visitors, levelling the playing field with other European countries.”