Sky-high costs of visas and Air Passenger Duty are preventing the UK from attracting targeted numbers of Chinese travellers.
A target of increasing visitors to the UK from China from 149,000 in 2011 to 500,000 by 2015 will fall short by almost 200,000, according to a report published today by the Tourism Alliance.
The study reveals that in 2012 only 179,000 Chinese tourists visited the UK – an increase of just 20%, falling short of a planned target of 201,000 by more than 20,000.
If the increase continues at the current rate the UK will miss the 500,000 a year target by more than 180,000 visitors a year in 2015.
It blames two factors for this failure: the introduction of biometric visas in 2008 and substantial increases in APD since 2007.
The report, Benefitting From China’s Tourism Boom, finds that while total outbound tourism from China to all global destinations has more than doubled since 2007, the number of Chinese travelling to the UK has increased by just 25% over this period. This is a significant under-performance compared to other European destination.
For example, Chinese outbound tourism to France between 2007 and 2012 increased by 75% from 800,000 to 1.4 million. France now receives almost eight times more visitors from China than the UK.
European tours from China that include the UK as a destination have dropped from around 50% pre-2007 to just 10% today (2012), according to the report.
Tourism Alliance chairman Mary Rance said: “Despite some reforms to visa processing and the boost provided by the Olympics, it is clear that not enough has been done to achieve the targets for attracting inbound tourism from China.
“Chinese tourists are a vital source of income for the UK, spending £102 billion abroad in 2012.
“While VisitBritain’s latest tourism strategy is clearly aimed at ‘Delivering a Golden Legacy,’ it is clear that the government’s approach to the opportunities provided by Chinese visitors is still stuck in the starting blocks.
“What is needed is a joined-up, coherent government strategy that addresses the barriers that stop Chinese visitors coming to the UK.”
China is the world’s biggest growth market for outbound tourism. Visitors from China spend £1,680 in the UK per visit, which is almost three times the average expenditure of visitors to the UK (£600) and twice that of visitors from the US (£857).
Airport Operators Association chief executive Darren Caplan said: "Chinese visitors to the UK now experience a double whammy: in addition to the high cost of UK visas, they also have to pay the most punitive APD in the world.
“This prevents the UK from capitalising on the increase in Chinese tourists visiting Europe and growing ourmarket share for these visitors. The ultimate beneficiaries of all this are our nearest European competitors, who are enjoying a boom in Chinese tourism.
“Despite the detrimental affect APD is having upon the UK’s ability to attract international tourists, the government is also planning to increase APD yet further, missing the opportunity to attract foreign spenders to these shores by instead reforming the system of APD.
"As a result, the UK will continue to lose out to European neighbours, and businesses across the country will suffer.”
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