LONDON – Britain was treating Chinese citizens “like criminals” under its complex visa entry system which was preventing thousands of tourists from visiting the country, industry experts have said.
British Airways boss Willie Walsh, chief executive of Madame Tussauds owner Merlin Entertainments’ Nick Varney, and Travelodge chief Grant Hearn have warned that Britain was missing out on China’s high consumer spending power, the Telegraph reported.
China has a total population of 1.3 billion, but in 2011, just 149,000 citizens visited Britain, spending 240 million pounds. In contrast, the US attracted 1.1 million visits in the same year, according to tourism group VisitBritain.
Hearn said: “Every wealthy Indian or Chinese tourist lost to America, France and Germany is a lost opportunity to boost our economy and create much needed jobs in Britain.”
At present, a Chinese citizen wishing to visit Britain has to fill in a nine-page form in English, visit an immigration authority and have fingerprints taken or eyes scanned. For every one Chinese who visits Britain, eight go to Paris and 10 visit America, figures show.
Chinese tourists are also asked to pay almost double the visa costs – 80 pounds – than when entering other countries in Europe like France, Italy and Spain.
The business leaders called on the government to relax visa rules.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of Chinese people who revere and respect Britain but feel they are being treated like criminals by the authorities,” said Ben Elliot, co-founder of private club Quintessentially Lifestyle which employs Mandarin speakers in London.