Changes to visa rules have been announced making it easier for Chinese people to visit the UK. As Hayley Platt reports the move follows pressure from retailers and businesses who say current arrangements favour continental Europe.
Selfridges takes customer service seriously. It has staff who speak a range of languages - Mandarin included. But the UK doesn't lure as many Chinese visitors as it would like - largely thanks to complicated visa rules. Last year less than 300 thousand UK visas were issued to Chinese people. That's 8 times less than the number issued in France. And significantly less than the one and half million visas issues across all 26 Schengen countries. The UK wants to change that by simplifying the visa process. Mark Henderson, is from the UK China Visa Alliance. SOUNDBITE: Mark Henderson, Deputy Chariman of the UK China Visa Alliance, saying (English): "At the moment the form you have to fill in for a Shengen is more or less the same as the form you have to fill in for the UK visa but you do have to fill in two sets of forms, they're long forms like 15 pages so now you'll be able to fill in a single form." Chinese visitors will also have access to a new 24-hour visa service. Ireland's visa will now be welcome in the UK. And, for the first time, the forms will be provided in Chinese languages not just English. With Chinese tourists spending around £700 per transaction, two thirds more than most other overseas visitors, retailers are understandably delighted with the change. Paddy Byng is MD of luxury brand Asprey. SOUNDBITE: Paddy Byng, Managing Director, Asprey London, saying (English): "They're the largest spending tourist group globally so clearly we want to make sure we attract or make it as easy as possible for the Chinese to visit here because we know that when they come we will benefit enourmously from an economic perspective." The announcement came as China's President arrived in London with trade and investment high on the agenda. Last year deals between the two countries were worth a record £3 billion. But it's retail spending which the UK is hoping to cash in on. Maureen Hinton is global research director at Conlumino. SOUNDBITE: Maureen Hinton, Global Research Director, Conlumino, saying (English): "Even though GDP is stalling rather it's still significantly more than we're getting in most western economies and it's rising prosperity of the consumers there becasue they're moving from a rural economy to a urbanised economy, they're getting higher wages because they're moving from agriculture to manufacturing into service sectors." In fact China's retail spending is expected to grow by 90 percent between now and 2018 to almost 6 trillion dollars. UK retailers would be delighted with just a tiny fraction of that.