A survey by online accommodation bookings giant Hotels.com has found that the UK visa system could be deterring Chinese visitors.
The results of the annual Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) of 3,000 Chinese residents found 19% say that the ease of applying for a visa is the top priority when planning a trip abroad.
The findings supports recent criticism reported by Travel Weekly by Asia Pacific boss of Travelzoo Jason Yap that the UK visa system was putting off visitors, something Home Office immigration minister Mark Harper strongly refuted.
However there is a widespread belief that the UK loses out to France and other parts of Europe that have signed the Schengen agreement. As a result a separate visa is required to enter the UK whereas a single visa gives Chinese visitors entry to all 26 counties in the Schengen area.
The Home Office announced plans in May to looks at how the UK’s visa system could be made easier for visitors travelling in groups.
Hotels.com said this was “a step in the right direction”, but added that a “focus on group travel could mean that the UK may miss out on the growing number of independent Chinese travelers” with 62% now booking travel independently.
This shift is being led by a rising number of affluent, younger travellers. Almost three-quarters (73%) aged under 35 now book holidays abroad independently, compared to just over half (57%) of visitors aged over 35.
Nigel Pocklington, Hotels.com chief marketing officer, said: “The UK cannot afford to be turning visitors away.
“In an increasingly competitive market, we should be doing all that we can to encourage more visitors from China to spend their holidays in the UK.
“The government’s plan to streamline visa applications for group travellers is very welcome news, but we must not forget about the increasing numbers who prefer to travel independently.
“With approximately a fifth of travellers citing ease of visa application as a key consideration, the UK’s current system could be a ‘deal-breaker’ for some visitors if changes are not made.
“Aside from benefiting the UK’s tourism industry, relaxing restrictions on visas could provide a big boost for retailers and the wider economy.”
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