LONDON Britain will simplify bureaucracy for Chinese tourists and business travellers, the government said on Friday, letting them apply for UK and European visas in one single process.
The scheme is aimed at removing a barrier which discourages many tourists from coming to Britain while touring Europe, due to the fact that they have to apply for a separate UK visa which is outside the "Schengen" area where a single visa is enough to travel to most EU countries, including France, Italy and Spain.
"This scheme will create a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors to the UK and Europe, whether they are coming here for business or leisure," Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement announcing the scheme that starts on July 1.
The policy change is a victory for the British Hospitality Association (BHA) which estimates that Britain loses out on 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) a year as wealthy Chinese tourists choose to visit and shop in cities such as Milan or Paris over London due to an easier visa process.
Business and leisure visitors from China, the world's second largest economy, can visit 26 nations with a single Schengen visa but had needed to go through a separate visa application process for Britain.
The new scheme, being run on a pilot basis in partnership with Belgium, which is a Schengen state, means travellers will be able to obtain a visa for both the UK and the Schengen area without having to visit two different application centres.
Customers can apply online using one set of documents and then book a single UK visa appointment to complete the process.
"By 2023, China will be the largest outbound tourism economy in the world so it is important that the UK makes every effort to welcome the Chinese traveller into our country," BHA Chief Executive Ufi Ibrahim said.
(Reporting by Neil Maidment; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)