France is part of the Schengen system that offers Chinese visitors the chance to visit 26 countries in Europe – not including the UK – on a single visa.
According to the World Tourism Organization, Britain welcomes 149,000 Chinese holidaymakers a year compared to 1.1m who travel to France.
This has been an increasing issue which last month saw the Home Office cave in and announce some changes to the visa system, including rolling out application forms that are translated into the tourist’s native language. Application forms have also been shortened although they are still longer than the four-page Schengen document.
Businesses warn the improvements don’t go far enough. They are pressing the Government to consider a more radical overhaul, including potential measures such as working with the French and German Governments to share biometric data and introduce a “dual processing” system that would allow Chinese visitors to submit their UK application forms at the same time as their shorter Schengen forms.
“Our visa policies are making the UK uncompetitive. We are absolutely falling behind,” said Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive, of the BHA.
Adam Marshall, director of policy at the BCC, said: “We run the risk of losing Chinese investment compared to our counterparts in Europe. This is an own goal for Britain.”
Willie Walsh, head of airlines giant IAG, said: “Putting in place a Chinese visa process that is fit for purpose to replace the ridiculous system currently in operation is one way to kick-start our economy.”
Retailers’ organisation the New West End Company and Walpole British luxury have formed an alliance to tackle the problems around visas for Chinese tourists. A spokeswoman for the alliance, said: “Each year we estimate the UK misses out on millions of Chinese tourists, costing the UK economy an estimated £1.2 billion in annual spend.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are open to the brightest and best. China is one of the UK’s priority markets for business and our new initiatives support this.”