Most Chinese visitors, travelling half way around the world and visiting Europe for the first time, want to do a multi-country tour. A visa issued by a country which is a member of the Schengen Agreement allows access to 26 European countries. A separate UK visa is required to add Britain that multi-country tour. Historically, two bio-metric samples, and two visa applications would need to be filed at two separate locations.
Applying for a visa from any country takes time and requires a range of supporting material. Figures from the European Union and Visit Britain show that most Chinese visitors to Europe only make the effort to go through the application process once. For the vast majority, the one Schengan visa was adequate to deliver the multi-country tour they wanted.
We welcome the improvements to the visa system in China that have been announced, including the introduction of a one-stop-shop initiative implemented by the Home Office in 2014 to streamline the application process.
In addition, the Home Office identified that tour operators account for 80% of all visitors coming from China into Europe. Following this, we have commissioned research with Chinese tour operators to understand how many include the UK on their European tours, what are the barriers that prevent our inclusion, and what can be done to encourage them to add the UK to their itineraries.
We are also commissioning research into the income earned from Chinese customers of retail and hospitality businesses in the UK, compared with their businesses in other major European countries to compare the levels of performance. This will be used to illustrate the need for urgent action to increase Chinese visitor numbers.
Thanks to the work of the Home Office in trialing the recommendations of the UKCVA, Britain performs well in the number of visas it issues each year compared to other major European countries.
Since 2011, the UK has seen significant growth in the number of Chinese tourists, and is taking a greater proportion of overall Chinese visitors to Europe from the Schengan area.
While developing the “One Stop Shop” initiative, the focus now turns to securing support for additional initiatives to attract more high spending tourists from China than ever before.
In 2011 over 1 million Schengen visas were issued, compared with 205,000 UK visas (EU and Home Office figures). This means that our neighbouring countries, such as France, have a potential market which is five times that of the UK.
The UKCVA estimates that Britain misses out on around £1.2 billion of spending from Chinese tourists because we underperform in attracting them.
The Alliance does not advocate the UK joining Schengen but is calling on the Home Office to examine ways to make it easier for a prospective Chinese visitor to provide data for both visas at the same time.
New West End Company, the Business Improvement District for London’s West End, estimates that Chinese visitors spend nearly three times as much in the West End than the average overseas visitor – £1,688 compared with £567. China accounted for almost 20% of all non-EU international spend and there has been a 16% increase in arrivals in the last 12 months, adding to the 150,000 Chinese tourists who visited the UK in 2011. [Source: Global Blue Shopper Report 2013].
Following several meetings with the former UKBA, a Working Group was established in November 2012 to examine ways to encourage more Chinese people to apply for UK visas.