Walsh: 'Chinese tourists think we don't want them'

The chief executive of British Airways' parent company says the visa system for Chinese tourists is still too complicated.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 14 Oct 2013
The government has said on dozens of occasions that it looks to developing economies such as China and India to help the UK get out of the doldrums. But if you’re a Chinese or Indian visitor trying to get into the UK, getting a visa is far from straightforward

That Chinese tourists find it near-impossible to get into the country is an oft-made complaint, repeated again this morning by Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways parent company International Airlines Group, who said there is a perception in China that ‘the UK doesn’t want to see the Chinese tourists and Chinese business’.

‘We’ve got to put a bit of effort into changing that image,’ he said. ‘If we’re to be attractive to, particularly high-end tourists, we’ll have to have more people who can speak Mandarin and make them feel welcome – not just at the airports but at major tourist venues.’

Walsh was speaking at the launch of BA’s new service to Chengdu, in south-western China. But that doesn’t make his point any less valid.

He complained that at £80, British visas are more expensive than visas for Europe’s 26-country Schengen border-free zone, which cost £56. He also pointed out that the UK requires Chinese visitors to apply for ‘transit visas’, even if they’re just changing planes in the UK – which seems unnecessarily bureaucratic.

According to BA, more than 1.2 million Shengen visas were issued to Chinese people last years – compared with fewer than 200,000 British visas.

Earlier this summer, Yu Ning Ning, president of China International Travel Service – the country’s largest travel agent – made a similar complaint.

‘If I want to send 1,000 people [to Britain] I have to send buses [to a centre so they can get their visas signed off],’ she said. ‘This is really causing problems. Every minute, you are losing business.’

Less than a week before the Conservative Party conference, Walsh also took the opportunity to admonish our great leaders.

‘I’m not a fan of Cameron or Osborne,’ he said. ‘I haven’t seen much evidence of visionary leadership there. To me, they respond to whatever is topical rather than setting out a long-term plan or a long-term vision for growth.’

A less than glowing report from the leader of one of the UK’s biggest businesses, there. Looks like government ministers will be at the back of the queue when it comes to free upgrades on British Airways flights...

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