The Airport Operators Association (AOA), the trade body which represents UK airports, and the UK Travel Retail Forum, the national trade association for the UK travel retail business, have written to a number of Cabinet Ministers including the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary to warn that current UK visa procedures are deterring Chinese visitors from travelling to the UK, costing the Treasury around £1.2 billion in lost revenue, and denying a valuable source of funding for the UK airports sector.
The letter, which was also delivered to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller MP, and the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Green, urges the Government to implement measures which will simplify the country’s visa regime, or else continue to see “Chinese tour operators striking Britain from their itineraries”. It warns that at present, Chinese visitors view the UK’s visa system as “expensive, bureaucratic and lacking in transparency”.
Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: “Less than 200,000 Chinese visitors came to the UK in 2011, which represents a small proportion of those visiting countries such as France, which receives eight times the number of Chinese tourists, and Germany, which receives six times the number. The AOA and UKTRF both believe 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.
“The Prime Minister has said he wants the UK to be a Top 5 tourist destination in the world. We support this ambition, which if realised would see billions of pounds a year extra enter the UK economy – Visit Britain have estimated that visa liberalisation could deliver £2.8bn extra from tourism. We urge the Government to look into this issue as a matter of urgency and take steps to simplify our visa regime.”
Sarah Branquinho, Chair of the UK Travel Retail Forum, 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.”