Published on 21 May 2012

Passport Control: First Impressions of British Hospitality

As long queues and red tape are reported to discourage non European Union visitors to the UK the hotel industry stands to lose valuable custom at a time when it is most needed.

The UK Border Force’s monthly performance survey demonstrates that non European Union visitors face delays of up to 3 hours at passport control this month. UK Immigration Minister Damian Green appeared before the British Parliaments Home Affairs Committee on the 15th May to answer questions about queues at passport control in Heathrow airport.

Travellers wishing to visit the UK may well be ‘put off’ visiting by these reports and by reports of friends and family who have been through the process. Social media also allows visitors to document and broadcast failings in the UK border control system with immediate effect and could easily put off potential visitors thus damaging the UK hospitality industry.

Passport Control and Visa problems

Not only do the queuing times and airport chaos dissuade potential visitors but also the initial visa process which is convoluted and expensive. Tom Jenkins, Executive Director of European Tour Operators Association said:

“Images of queues at Heathrow damage the UK; they make the prospect of a visit here tiresome and unattractive. The damage done by this is major, but is short term: it can be fixed quickly. The damage done by our visa regime takes place thousands of miles away, where the clients are, in the origin markets. These markets, such as India, China and Indonesia, are of enormous long term importance to our strategic growth as a destination. They are being lost.”

Research conducted by ETOA reveals that hundreds of millions of pounds are lost to the UK economy every year because the visa process is so alienating that applicants give up and decide to go elsewhere.

First impressions of Britain

Jo Causon Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service said:

“Airports are so much more than a mere gateway through which a passenger passes en route to somewhere else, and Heathrow must deliver on the whole customer experience. This cannot merely be by reducing queue times, but by ensuring that travellers’ first interaction with the UK is a positive one.”

Before a guest even arrives at their hotel they may have a very negative impression of the country which the hotelier must then overcome.

Ahead of the Olympic Games the Government has agreed to hire an additional 80 Border control staff and they are currently looking into improving the speed and experience of obtaining a UK visa. Given the effects this will have on the UK hotel industry, here’s hoping they will give this priority.

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