TOURISM industry leaders have been left unconvinced by government plans to treble to the number of Chinese visitors to the UK, saying yesterday there were still too many barriers to inbound travel that needed to be addressed.
In a speech at the Tate Modern, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt set out how the government plans to “turbo-charge” the UK’s tourism industry and build on the legacy of the Olympic Games.
But Willie Walsh, the boss of British Airways owner IAG and one of the industry’s most vocal critics, said the government’s plans didn’t go far enough.
“The UK is losing out to the rest of Europe when it comes to Chinese visitors and this is entirely in the government’s control. They need to change the visa system and change it urgently,” he warned.
He said the cost and complexity of accessing a UK tourist visa compared to acquiring a Schengen visa for mainland Europe means “Chinese are taking their business and new found wealth elsewhere”.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the travel industry body Abta, said Hunt’s tourism campaign “is a step in the right direction”.
But he added that “barriers to tourism such as high levels of aviation taxes, visa costs and bureaucracy, inadequate infrastructure and poor service at the borders must be addressed as a matter of urgency”.
Virgin said: “If the government wants airlines to fly three times the number of Chinese tourists to the UK, we need brave policy-making. Heathrow is full. To provide new routes to emerging markets we have to sort out the capacity crisis.”
Hunt admitted that Britain attracted only 150,000 Chinese visitors last year – far less than Germany and France – and announced a £8m investment to help boost visitors to 500,000 by 2015. This alone could add £500m to the economy per year, he said.