The government recognised that it could greatly help the economy if the process was made easier for particular groups of people to come here on business, as students or as tourists. At the end of March 2013 the abolition of UKBA was announced. It was replaced with two services one of which is focused on making high-quality decisions about who comes here, with a culture of customer satisfaction for business men and visitors who want to come here legally.
Home Office ministers are to start talks with Chinese tour operators with the aim of setting up an easier visa application system for high spending Asian visitors. Chinese visitors can visit the whole of Europe on a Schengen visa apart from the UK and Ireland. Consideration was given to having one process for both visas but it was reported in the FT yesterday that Mark Harper the immigration minister, had considered this but it was ruled out because of complex issues around IT and data protection. He is keen to make the process as simple as possible for tour operators.The rest of Europe has not got a real vested interest in this issue and the only country that would stand to gain from this is Ireland. Visiting the UK is a bigger draw for the Chinese simply because of London, the Royal Family and it is so much bigger with so many places of historical importance to see. Once they have a visa for here it is very easy to then tag Ireland onto their trip.
In China there are two ‘Golden Weeks’ – Spring Festival Week and National Day Week which is at the beginning of October. During these two weeks, most people go out and enjoy themselves which boosts the economy, hence the nickname ‘Golden Week’. Increasingly Chinese people travel abroad and spend about £2.4 billion on luxury goods such as watches, perfume, handbags, designer clothes, fine wines and cigars. Retailers in the UK would like them to spend more of their money here. Selfridges for example employ Mandarin speaking staff and accept China’s main credit card which is China Union Pay. The last two weeks of July is also a period of high spend here as families and students prepare for graduation ceremonies.
These shopping sprees are important to the West End but also important for designer outlets throughout the country as they are popular too with the Chinese who want luxury Western goods at bargain prices. McArthur Glen is a company heavily involved in the development of these retail outlets and is so keen to encourage the Chinese to visit that it is a founder member of the UK China Visa Alliance which campaigns for the change in the visa application process. The Home Office is to begin publishing visa guidance in Mandarin from next month but the form itself will still be in English. According to a report in CNBC the French culture is something that exports well to China and consumers who are nouveau-riche want to do displays of conspicuous consumption. The Chinese consumers are already big buyers of French luxury products, wines and cheeses. According to Mark Henderson of the UK China Visa Alliance, we need to do more to make these people welcome and not just those who come here on tours but high net worth visitors who may never use a tour company.