The British Hospitality Association (BHA) has welcomed news today that the government is set to start a pilot scheme in collaboration with Belgium, designed to make it easier for Chinese visitors to visit the UK.
Starting on July 1, the pilot will enable Chinese tourists to visit UK visa application centres in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai and apply for both a UK and Schengen area visa at the same time.
The Schengen area comprises 26 countries that have agreed to allow free movement of their citizens within the area as a single country – which includes 22 EU countries along with Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The BHA, on behalf of its members as part of the UK China Visa Alliance (UKCVA), has been campaigning to improve access for Chinese visitors, and has also been working with the Home Office and the UK Border Agency to identify the issues and how they impact the UK economy.
According to the association, the UK loses out on an estimated £1.2bn each year because it attracts “far fewer” Chinese tourists than other European countries.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the BHA, said: “By 2023, China will be the largest outbound tourism economy in the world so it is important that the UK makes every effort to welcome the Chinese traveller into our country.
“The government’s decision to streamline the visa application process for Chinese visitors with Schengen is a long-awaited victory for common sense, our economy and the hospitality and tourism industry.
“The BHA with its partners in the UKCVA has for many years has called on the Home Office to create a shared visa application centre for UK and Schengen visas – a one stop shop – to simplify administration and make the UK an accessible destination.”
Ibrahim added that there was “no better time” to implement the change with recent ONS data showing a 17% drop in 2014 of Chinese business travellers compared to 2013.