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UK targets China's big spenders

By Zhang Chunyan and Cecily Liu (China Daily)

08:09, October 11, 2012

Tourism chiefs in the United Kingdom are introducing new initiatives to attract high-spending Chinese tourists, including facilitating UK visas and organizing the largest-ever British tourism mission to China.

A new visa proposal involving the "dual processing" of British and Schengen applications — referring to the 26 European countries signed up to the Schengen visa agreement — was presented to the UK Border Agency on Monday.

A single Schengen visa covers parts of Eastern Europe and all of Western Europe, including France and Germany. Britain has so far refused to join the Schengen system due to national security concerns.

Under the terms of the proposal, Chinese applicants will only have to submit one form and one set of documents in order to receive two visas, allowing them to visit the UK and parts of Europe on the same trip.

Walpole, a consortium of luxury brands, and the New West End Company, which represents top London stores, met the agency to discuss the issue.

"The new visa plan is very necessary. The applications will still be processed twice, ensuring that the UK border regime is still strong, but two visas will be issued at the same time," said Julia Carrick, chief executive of Walpole British Luxury.

Tourism and retail bosses estimate that the UK misses out on 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) from wealthy Chinese visitors a year as a result of Britain's bureaucratic system.

"France currently attracts eight times more Chinese visitors than the UK. Harmonizing the visa system should lead to the UK performing as well as France," Carrick said.

Research from VisitBritain, the national tourist body, indicates that 61 percent of Chinese people who chose not to come to Britain were put off by the difficulties of the visa process.

Carrick said if the plan is not introduced, "Britain will still welcome increasing numbers of Chinese visitors because of the growing numbers of Chinese travelers. But we will continue to underperform compared with other major European countries".

She added: "We understand that the UK Border Agency agrees with the principle of moving to a more harmonized system for visa applications. The issue will be about the practicalities of introducing such a system and the time frame for doing so."

Stephen Boxall, managing director of The Ritz London, said: "Should the Home Office wisely revise the current legislation regarding UK visas to streamline the process by which Chinese passport holders are able to travel to the UK, we would expect to see a significant uplift in revenue, both in the hospitality industry and across all retail industries.

"As the first hotel in the UK to install China UnionPay terminals and launch a series of bespoke amenities for our Chinese guests, at The Ritz we have long understood the importance of this market to British tourism and unreservedly endorse the proposed revision to procedures by the Home Office."

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