Senior fashion industry figures have welcomed the decision to simplify the UK visa application process for Chinese visitors, but have said more needs to be done to ease their entry into the country.
Chancellor George Osborne announced the pilot scheme during a trade mission to Beijing this week. Under the plans, Chinese visitors will be able to use an EU visa to travel to the UK when booking with selected travel agents. At present, Chinese tourists cannot use an EU visa for UK travel and must apply for a separate visa.
Retailers could be set for a major boost to their coffers as a result of the move. Lobby group UK Chinese Visa Alliance (UKCVA) previously estimated the move could provide a £1.2bn annual uplift to the UK economy.
UKCVA chairman and John Lewis retail director Andrew Murphy called Osborne’s announcement “very good news”.
He said: “We would like to see a single application process extended to independent travellers [who don’t book through travel agents] – a growing sector of the Chinese traveller market – but this is a very welcome first step.”
Harrods managing director Michael Ward praised it as a “step in the right direction” but called for further changes. “More needs to be done across other key markets where stringent visa restrictions still apply, such as Russia,” he said.
Mark Henderson , chairman of Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes, echoed this, saying Chinese tourism was vital to retail.
According to tax-free shopping operator Global Blue, the Chinese were the biggest overseas spenders in the year to August 31, representing 23% of total tax-free spend in the UK, with an average transaction of £762.