Easier UK Visas to Lure Chinese Tourists

The United Kingdom will make it easier for Chinese nationals to apply for visas to visit the country, a move designed to lure more Chinese tourists as well as potential investors, several British officials said on Monday in Beijing.

Under the proposals, Chinese tourists visiting the European Union using selected travel agencies will no longer have to file a separate application to visit Britain.

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Starting in the summer of 2014, businesspeople will be able to apply for a “super-priority” visa, which will be processed within 24 hours rather than one week.

A “mobile visa service”, which targets business executives and enables visa teams to collect forms and data at applicants’ workplaces, is likely to be extended from Beijing and Shanghai to other cities.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who is leading a British trade delegation in China, said the measures will be “good for tourism and British business”.

The number of UK visas issued to Chinese nationals continues to rise, according to the British embassy in Beijing. UK Visas & Immigration issued 289,000 visas in 2012-13, nearly a third more than in 2010-11.

In the first half of 2013, the number of visitor visas issued to Chinese nationals increased by more than 30 percent compared with the same period in 2012.

Dominique Hardy, visa manager at the British embassy in Beijing, said her team is working hard to speed up processing visas for Chinese applicants.

“We recruited an additional 190 visa officers to work over the 2013 peak season. And our average processing time for a visa in China was less than seven days in the first half of 2013, and for Approved Destination Scheme visit visas (for group travelers), it was less than five days,” Hardy said.

Up to 96 percent of Chinese customers who apply for a visa get one, she added.

Rao Tian, deputy director of the European division at China International Travel Service, said the ordinary UK visa application requires 15 working days. In addition to booking an interview and translating all application materials, it takes at least one month to get a visa.

“With those simplified application measures, I am sure the demand for UK travel will increase significantly,” he added.

Ma Yiming, a 24-year-old professional from Beijing, is very excited about the new policies.

“I didn’t include the United Kingdom in my list of destinations last year and early this year because the procedures to apply for a visa are so complicated,” she said.

Ma traveled to Italy, France and Switzerland last October by joining a tourist group, and spent about two weeks in the Netherlands and Belgium in April.

“Had the policy come out earlier, I could have gone to the UK this April,” she said.

Cheng Xiaodan, chief executive officer of London-based travel agency China Holiday Group, said the new policy is “absolutely good” for British tourism and business.

She noted that British travel and shopping companies have called on the government many times to simplify and relax visas for Chinese tourists.

The number of mainland tourists traveling overseas in the first three quarters of this year reached 72.5 million, a surge of 18 percent from the same period of last year, according to the China National Tourism Administration on Monday.

The total spending of outbound tourists was estimated at $94.6 billion in the first three quarters, a rise of 23.1 percent from the same period last year.

Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods and Director of Walpole, a consortium of luxury brands, said the new measures “haven’t gone far enough”.

Ward explained, under the plan, visa applications for Chinese visitors will be simplified only if they book with selected travel agencies.

BEIJING, Oct. 15 (Xinhuanet)

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