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Increase in Chinese spending could be bigger with a more streamlined visa system

Retail spending by foreign visitors to the West End grew by 4 per cent between Jan-April, according to new figures from payment service provider Global Blue, reported in the Daily Telegraph.

Tourists from China come out top and generate the most value for the UK economy. They spent 9 per cent more than in the same period last year, accounting for a fifth of all foreign spending in the West End, with an average transaction worth £1,450.

This is great news and shows that recent investment in areas like Regent Street and Bond Street is succeeding in attracting both the wealthy tourists and the luxury brands whose products these discerning shoppers are eager to buy. Alongside our world-class cultural attractions, London undoubtedly has a compelling offer.

Yet, despite this encouraging rise in Chinese spending, London misses out on further high-value retail tourism, when compared to near rival Paris. The difficulty of applying for a UK tourist visa is the single most significant reason for this, according to research by the UK China Visa Alliance, that found that the UK could attract an additional £1.2bn in Chinese spend per year if visa processes were simplified.

London First has been calling on Government to streamline the process of applying for a UK visa and a European Schengen visa in parallel. It would like to see the UK working with a European partner in China to offer customers a joint UK/Schengen visa application process. Recent unilateral improvements to our visa services in China are welcome but today’s figures from Global Blue illustrate the size of the potential prize.

The UKCVA’s 2014 research found that:

  • 1.6 million Chinese visit Europe each year yet only 15% of these obtain a UK visitor visa
  • Chinese consider UK 2nd hardest country to gain a visa to behind the USA
  • 71% of Chinese tour operators would put UK on European itineraries if the UK visa application process was simplified or merged with the Schengen visa, which allows access to 26 European countries.

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