VisitBritain has welcomed a new streamlined visa service, announced today, which is expected to boost the number of Chinese visitors to the UK.
The key changes include a more efficient application process making it easier for Chinese people to visit the UK and mainland Europe on the same trip, a 24-hour visa service which will launch in August, and the opportunity to use an Irish visitor visa to travel to the UK without the need for a separate UK visa and vice versa.
A further relaxation of the visa application process for Chinese business travellers and holiday visitors is expected to take place following future talks with European countries which are signed up to the Schengen Agreement. Chinese visitors are able to travel between all the Schengen countries on just one visa.
Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications at VisitBritain, said the changes will build on the already "significant improvements" introduced previously by the Home Office.
"Recent streamlining of the visa processing has made a big difference, with Chinese visitor spending up a record 64% to nearly half a billion pounds," she said. "VisitBritain has also recently launched a ‘GREAT China Welcome Charter' - to make Britain the most welcoming destination in Europe - which has received huge support from the industry."
VisitBritian believe that the new visa service will encourage last year's record breaking visits from China to grow further. The 196,000 visits in 2013 increased by 9.7% from the previous year, with spending of £491.7m up 63.8% during the same period. Average spend per visit last year by Chinese travellers was £2,508.
InterContinental Hotels (IHG), which is in the process of rolling out a comprehensive programme in all its hotels to welcome Chinese visitors, said that it wants travellers from China to see the UK as the most welcoming destination in Europe.
Stephen McCall, IHG's chief operating officer for the UK said: "This announcement comes at a time when governments around the world are making improvements to their own visa systems to compete for this growing market so we'll need to see a continued focus on making improvements in this area in the future.
"The private sector also has a role to play and at IHG we're working to ensure hotels in key destinations are ready to welcome Chinese visitors, increasing the number of Mandarin speakers in our hotels and training chefs in Chinese cuisine."