Chinese Market: UK Tourism Deters Chinese Tourists
Concerns that regulation governing UK tourism is deterring the Chinese market have persisted for many years. There are many obstacles in the way for UK hoteliers hoping to capitalise on this profitable source market.
Finally, this concern has been raised at the highest levels in a confidential letter by Britain’s Ambassador to Beijing, Sebastian Wood.
In his letter to Theresa May and senior members of the Government, he wrote:
Chinese propaganda is only too happy to play up negative stories about our visa regime – they like to keep us on the defensive politically, for wider reasons. We make it easier for them by criticising ourselves, which is completely self-defeating, as Chinese tourists can easily be taken in by the “fortress UK” caricature, and take their tourism dollars elsewhere.
Since published by the Evening Standard on 6 June, Wood’s views have gained significant industry support.
“The UK spends many millions of pounds encouraging inbound tourism,” says British Hospitality Association chief executive, Ufi Ibrahim, “yet a similar amount of money is spent discouraging those same visitors based in potentially the richest source countries.”
“The government is putting every obstacle in the way of encouraging the Chinese market which has the potential of creating thousands of jobs.”
Last week, at a Hospitality and Tourism Summit held in London, the minister counsellor at the Chinese Embassy in London emphasised the extraordinary potential of the Chinese market to Britain’s tourism industry – and thus, to the country’s economic future.
This view is echoed in Wood’s confidential letter, in which a rethink of the current tourism strategy is called for:
With the speed that tourism from the emerging markets is growing, and with the preferences of emerging market tourists now in their formative stage, I think we need a clearer overall strategy: what kind of tourists do we want to attract, from what markets, and how can HMG Departments work most effectively together to achieve that? We would be very happy to participate in drawing up such a strategy.
The key factor that deters Chinese tourists is the UK Visa system.
Although there had been some alleviation in the control procedures for obtaining a tourist visa (information leaflets were now printed in a number of different languages) visa forms were still in English and biometric information was still required, with a personal visit to a visa centre.
“Visas are also expensive to acquire because visitors to Europe need a UK visa in addition to a visa required by countries conforming to the Schengen Agreement – thus doubling the cost,” continued Ibrahim.
Ms Ibrahim said that the US Government’s new national tourism and travel policy recognises that visa policy reform is key to the future prosperity of the industry – and the country as a whole.
“US government departments have been tasked with working together to deliver faster visa processing times and have set a goal of attracting 100m visitors by 2021, which will bring $250bn in visitor spending each year.
“Without compromising security, this is a move that must be followed by the British government if we are to compete on the world stage.”