May 31, 2012
“Chinese tourists alone could create thousands of UK jobs” – BHA chief executive
Obtaining a tourist visa is a major deterrent for potential visitors to the UK and visa policy needs to be reformed to keep pace with major competitors like the US, Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), will tell leaders from the hospitality and tourism industry at a summit at the InterContinental London Park Lane on Friday.
Ms Ibrahim will tell over 450 leaders gathered at the industry’s first ever summit, that now the US has announced its plans to reform visa policy, more pressure should be exerted on the UK government to do the same, if tourism is to act as an engine of growth for the UK economy.
“In a national travel and tourism strategy, the US Government recognises that changes need to be made to secure its share of international visitors. It’s acknowledged that visa policy reform is key to the future prosperity of the industry – and the country as a whole.
US government departments have been tasked with working together to deliver faster visa processing times and have set a goal of attracting 100m visitors by 2021, which will bring $250bn in visitor spending each year.
Reforms to the US visa process have included reducing waiting times and increasing resources for processing. In China, waiting times have been reduced from 90 days to seven days in just four months.
“Without compromising security, this is a move that must be followed by the British government if we are to compete on the world stage,” says Ms Ibrahim.
“Britain cannot afford to continue to deter visitors by complicated tourist visa processing procedures, which are also costly, A Schengen visa is required in addition to a British visa if visitors want to visit other EU countries.
“According to the Tourism Alliance, Britain has a 0.25 per cent share of the Chinese market. Increasing that to 2.5 per cent could add more than £2bn to the UK economy and create over 40,000 jobs,” Ms Ibrahim adds.
Surveys show that visa requirements for major tourist source countries such as China, India, Russia and South America are too onerous and put off too many potential visitors to Britain from applying.
Ms Ibrahim’s comments are supported by international hotel groups.
Angela Brav, IHG Chief Executive. Europe, says the company would welcome changes to the UK’s visa regime.
“We know UK hotels are losing out to other destinations because of the current visa policy. Tours to Europe no longer include the UK because it’s too difficult to get a visa, which means we miss out on a significant number of bookings.
“Our InterContinental Paris Le Grand does not face the same challenges as the InterContinental London Park Lane, because visitors to France only need to apply for a Schengen visa.
“Our growth in the UK is expected to create 3,000 jobs over the next few years – we could deliver even more job-fuelled growth, but need the Government to get behind us. We understand the need for high levels of security, but if the US can do it, then so can we.”