Britain is attempting to woo rich tourists by expanding its 24 hour fast-track visa service, Prime Minister David Cameron announced today.
The service, which is already available to potential tourists living in China and India, will be rolled out to Turkey, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, the Phillipines from April.
Two cities -- Paris and New York -- will also receive the service through visa processing centres. These cities were singled out due to high demand from businesses and wealthy individuals there.
For some, it streamlines a clunky application process which can deter rich investors and tourists. The announcement is one of a number of moves that the UK government has made to bring its visa system up to scratch with other European rivals.
David Cameron said:
This new 24 hour service ... will persuade more business travellers, investors and tourists to visit Britain, to trade with Britain and to expand in Britain.
[It] is good news for British business and tourism, helping us to build a more resilient economy and secure a brighter future for Britain
The move could lift tourism spend in London as three of the benefactors made it into last year's top 10.
The UK's visa system has been heavily criticised for alienating potential tourists who are put off by its complexity. The vast majority of Chinese tourist groups visiting Europe choose to bypass Britain, leading to £1.2bn of potential revenue being lost each year, according to research by the UK China Visa Alliance.
The is primarily due to Britain not being part of the Schengen Area which lets Chinese tourists move between 26 other European countries using just one visa. However, if they want to come to Britain, they have to obtain a separate visa.
Nonetheless the government has taken some steps to address this. Last month it relaxed the rules on the amount of paperwork Chinese visitors who were here on business have to provide. It's now been whittled down to just three documents -- an application form, invitation letter and letter of employment.
Today's move is another baby step in the streamlining of the UK visa system.