British Government Making Moves To Simplify Visa Application But Lags Behind
Joining calls by London luxury retailers, hoteliers, and tour operators for the UK to streamline and simplify its visa policies for Chinese tourists to better compete with continental Europe, this week major players in the UK superyacht market called the visa restrictions a “straitjacket” on the industry. According to Skift, the British Marine Federation and luxury yacht manufacturers Sunseeker and Princess have appealed for changes to the application process for prospective Chinese buyers, saying the complex entry rules are having an adverse effect on long-term growth prospects and sending consumers into the arms of European rivals.
Howard Pridding, chief executive of the BMF, said: “Chinese tourist restrictions are a straitjacket on the UK marine industry which is harming businesses, sapping the economy, and costing local jobs. When a handful of visas can be all that stands in the way of tens of millions of pounds for the UK economy, the current restrictions are clearly not working in the country’s best interests.”
The British leisure marine industry generates around £2.9bn a year, but overseas markets, and China in particular, represent the greatest opportunity for growth. “These are high net worth individuals who want to spend money on British brands. Our European competitors welcome them with open arms,” Mr Pridding said.
Robert Braithwaite, president of Sunseeker, which builds 200 boats a year priced at £300,000 to £22m, said: “Chinese visa problems are impacting on Sunseeker’s long term growth prospects. An important part of the client experience during the decision making process is to visit our shipyard in Poole or a UK boat show. Sunseeker’s Chinese clients and potential buyers are having extreme difficulty in obtaining a visa to visit the UK, being laborious at best and often declined.”
He said potential buyers who are declined visas “decide to visit elsewhere in Europe where the visa process appears smoother”.
Despite the slow moves made by the British government to increase the efficiency of the visa process, things are changing, even if not quickly enough for luxury retailers and yachtmakers. Last December, British interior minister Theresa May announced that the government is moving to simplify the visa application process by expanding online applications, making some forms available in Chinese, and introducing an express service. The British government is also planning to spend an additional £8 million in the hopes of bringing in 233,000 Chinese visitors a year by 2020, while the official tourism organization VisitBritain sent its largest-ever delegation to Shanghai in November to build buzz.
For their part, London retailers have been quick to retool their efforts to cater to China’s new outbound traveler, particularly in the city’s luxurious West End, where the majority of Chinese luxury shoppers are in the 40-59 age bracket, while 51 percent of Chinese travelers in London as a whole are between the ages of 25-44.