Visa’s causing problems at airport retail outlets

The UK’s visitor visa requirements are interfering with a major source of income for the Treasury and for retailers with shops in UK airports. Those complex and often confusing restrictions deter a lot of tourists and other visitors from coming to the UK and spending their money, and one of the biggest losses is money from China.

Both the Airports Operators Association and the UK Travel Retail Forum (AOA and UKTRF) have expressed sharp concern in a letter to Maria Miller and Lord Green, culture secretary and trade and investment minister respectively. The letter suggests that government had better do something about streamlining the visa process or lose millions of pounds that will still get spent, but not in the UK.

According to Darren Caplan, chief executive of AOA, in 2011 eight times more Chinese travellers went to France and six times more went to Germany than came to the UK. That’s not even taking into account all the other holiday destinations with more visitor-friendly entry requirements. He says that Chinese travel agencies and tour operators are dropping the UK from their proposed itineraries because travel/visa arrangements are just too much trouble.

Sarah Branquinho, chairman of UKTRF and an active campaigner on issues regarding the travel retail industry, said records show that Chinese visitors are largely well-to-do and discerning travellers who tend to spend a lot of money in the high-end duty-free shops found in airports, and the loss of their trade is a painful blow to UK airport retailers.

Mr. Caplan also referred to the Prime Minister’s statement not so long ago that he wants Britain to be one of the top five tourist destinations in the world; Caplan said he fully endorses that idea but action needs to be taken on the visa issue or it is just wishful thinking. Industry experts estimate that simpler and more liberal visa requirements could easily contribute well over £2 billion a year to the UK’s economy.