Why are Chinese visitors so important to the UK economy?
China is now the highest spending country when travelling abroad. They spend more than the average overseas visitor, and consistently account for nearly half of all tourist spending in the UK. The average overseas visitor to Britain spends £780 per transaction, while the average Chinese tourist spends £940 every time they get their purse out.
Is the UK attracting Chinese visitors?
Yes. Following the work of the British government in implementing the one-stop-shop initiative, we’ve seen increasing numbers of Chinese visitors crossing our borders. Work must now be done to identify additional intensives that will build on this momentum and bring ever greater numbers into the UK.
What impact could attracting more Chinese visitors have?
UKCVA research estimates that if Britain were to perform as well as France, it would earn an additional £1.2 billion annually. Based on estimates that one job is created for every £50,000 of tourism spending, this growth would create a further 24,000 job every year.
Is the UK underperforming in its visa processing?
The UK performs as well as its major European neighbours in the number of visas it issues to Chinese visitors each year and the efficiency of processing applications. 95% of applications are approved and most within 7days. The underperformance is in the total number of Chinese visitors we attract to the UK compared with other major European countries.
The UKCVA believes this is a result of the need to apply separately for the additional visa needed to include the UK on a European tour.
Figures from the European Union and Visit Britain show that most visitors to Europe (93%) make the effort to go through the application process only once. Of those the vast majority (82%) apply for a Schengen visa because they want to make a multi-country tour.
So while in 2015 the UK issued 404,000 visitor visas in China, the 26 Schengen countries combined issued over 2.3 million. This 2.3 million is the market from which each Schengen country can draw visitors.
Why is an additional visa required?
Most Chinese visitors undertake a multi-country tour when visiting Europe. The majority (26) of European countries are covered by the Schengen Agreement, under which they have abolished passport and immigration controls at their common borders. A single visa may be issued by any one of the Schengen members, allowing visitors entry to all other member states. But if they want to include the UK in a tour they must get an additional UK visa.
Is it easier to obtain a Schengen visa than a UK one?
Up until October 2015, the UK had biometric visas in China and Schengen did not. The need for visitors to provide biometric details to obtain a UK visa, while important for UK border security, adds another element to the application process, in most cases requiring a trip to a visa processing centre. However, in October 2015 Schengen also moved to biometric visas requiring applicants to attend a Visa Application Centre to give their fingerprints. Previously there was no need for them to attend a Visa Application Centre. It is therefore even more onerous now to apply for the two visas.
What impact has the introduction of biometrics by Schengen countries had?
The introduction of biometrics for Schengen visas in 2015 has created more of a level playing field in terms of the process a potential visitor has to undergo to obtain a visa.
But because the biometric data is not shared, it is even less likely that individuals will apply for the two visas.
For tour operators, having to shepherd customers to two different visa processing centres to give their finger prints will be an even greater disincentive to include the UK on a European tour.
Early studies of comparative spending figures in the Schengen area and the UK indicate that the Chinese spending in the Schengen area has fallen since the introduction of biometrics (by 6% over the previous year in the first quarter of 2016) but it has fallen even further in the UK (by 20% compared with the previous year in the first quarter of 2016) (Figures from Global Blue).
We still await official figures on the number of visas issued by the UK and Schengen but we expect these to show a similar negative impact.
UKCVA is therefore urging the government to work with European (and other) countries to share biometric data collection points, while retaining independent application and validation processes.
What is the British government doing?
The Home Office has introduced a number of measures to make it easier for Chinese visitors to apply, as much as possible, for both visas at the same time. These include