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Travel organisations have given a collective thumbs up to government plans to slash the cost of tourist visas in a bid to attract more Chinese tourists to the UK.
However, they said more could be done to ease the visa process for Chinese travellers.
The cost for a long-term multi-entry visa is being cut from £325 to £85 from next year.
Prime minister David Cameron also announced yesterday that the UK will extend the validity of visas for Chinese tourists to two years, which is four times longer than the current six-month limit of the standard visa.
The government will also extend its network of visa application centres across China.
Those welcoming the measures, announced during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s state visit to Britain, included the World Travel & Tourism Council, the British Air Transport Association, Wendy Wu Tours, VisitBritain and UKinbound.
WTTC president and chief executive, David Scowsill, said: “I would like to commend the UK government on this great effort. Extending the period of validity of the visas and expanding the UK mobile fingerprinting service from nine Chinese cities to 50 is an important step by the government to welcome more Chinese travellers to the country.
“The announced changes will help the UK to benefit from increased travel from one of the world’s fastest growing tourism markets, and thus boost its economy - specifically the retail and hospitality sectors.”
Scowsill added: “The recently announced changes are a great step in the right direction, however, there are still many challenges to overcome to make the visa process even easier.
“WTTC analysis has shown that extending the length of stay does make a difference but does not have as impactful as a visa waiver programme.
“The USA has a visa waiver programme with 38 countries. This type of programme is what WTTC ultimately would like to see between the UK and China.
“A visa waiver programme between the two countries would allow Chinese and British travellers to complete visa application processes online in the comfort of their home or office, with all fingerprint and biometric controls carried out on arrival in the destination country.”
British Air Transport Association chief executive,Nathan Stower, said: “Making it easier and more convenient for high-spending Chinese visitors to come to the UK could be the dictionary definition of a no-brainer.”
He described the measures as “another important step in the right direction” but added: “We will continue to encourage the government to go further to increase the competitiveness of the UK’s visa system in China and other important markets like India, including early implementation of their plans to reduce the cost of a 10 year multiple entry visit visa from to £822 to £85.
“UK airlines will continue to play their part in attracting these high value tourists to our shores.
Wendy Wu Tours, a leading UK operator to China, reported a “sharp rise” in booking enquiries over the last few days, indicating that the state visit has provoked interest in the destination for holidaymakers.
Founder, Wendy Wu, said: “With the visa rules being relaxed, both inbound and outbound tourism will increase.
“Wendy Wu Tours already facilitates visa arrangements for its customers by including the cost and the processing of a visa with every group tour booking but the recent interest following the state visit is an encouraging sign for China travel.”
Wendy Wu Tours currently sells more than 30 escorted and private tours to China.
VisitBritain chef executive, Sally Balcombe, said: “China is the world’s largest outbound market and a he tourism opportunity for Britain.
“Chinese visitors have very positive perceptions of Britain, they stay longer here than in our European competitor destinations and are high spenders.
“We aim to double the current annual expenditure in the UK by Chinese visitors to £1 billion a year within the next five years.”
UKinbound yesterday heralded the measures on tourist visas as greatly helping to boost the UK’s competitiveness in the global tourism sector.
Travel and tourism generated 10.5% of the UK GDP last year, or £187.7 billion, and supported 4.2 million jobs, 12.7% of total employment, according to the WTTC.
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