The UK is needlessly blocking out tons of money from Chinese tourists, according to the president of the China International Travel Service. Yu Ning Ning says she doesn’t bother taking big parties to Britain because it is easier to go to Europe, where most countries are covered by China’s Schengen visa.
The Schengen Area is a group of 26 European countries that have ditched passport controls on shared borders. Twenty-two of the European Union member states and the four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states participate in it, and it means that countries outside of the area can get a single visa for all of those countries. The UK doesn’t take part.
Yu’s words should not be taken lightly. The CITS is China’s oldest and most powerful travel operator, and owns around 800 individual travel agencies from across the country. It has 3.2 million customers annually, and just 10,000 of these visit Britain.
Yu says: ‘If I want to send 1,000 people [to Britain], I have to send buses [to a centre for people to get their visas signed off]. This is really causing problems. Every minute, you are losing business.’
The words are damning for the government, which has recently been waxing lyrical about the importance of getting tourists to spend their dosh in the UK, and has been trying to revamp the visa system in this regard.
It’s clear firms want to get some Eastern money rolling into the coffers. Last year during London 2012, there were bus ads in Chinese, a temporary 'Asian focussed' menu in Harrods and Mandarin-speaking employees at Burberry, to maximise sales to tourists during the period.
But Yu says the changes made by the Home Office so far have done almost nothing to make it easier. The government needs to take note: China now has the world’s highest-spending tourists, having dropped £65bn in holiday spending on countries around the world last year.
The Home Office says: ‘China is one of the UK’s priority markets for tourism and business. Our Chinese visa system already provides an excellent service and we will continue to make further improvements wherever possible, but we will not compromise the security of our border.’
That’s a great example of anodyne active/inactive post-modern rhetoric from a government department. A free issue of MT to anyone who can decipher whether that means any improvements are in the pipeline…