UK visa regime deters up to half a million clients a year

At a press conference in London at the Grand Connaught Rooms on March 14 at 11:00 am, the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) will highlight three major problems that affect incoming tourism: tax, visas, and the impact of the Olympic Games.

Visas are a major problem for inbound tourism from long-haul markets such as China and India. A third of the buyers at BIM are directly affected by this.
These concerns are backed up by ETOA’s visa survey. This showed high dissatisfaction with the UK and Ireland visa process. It revealed for the first time the loss of business due to people abandoning visa applications.
When asked which consular authority would they rate as most problematic at processing visas, the UK was in first place: 20% of respondents in the survey rated it as the most problematic.

Our survey also uncovered the loss of tourism income due to processing. From our surveyed markets the UK was losing over 300,000 long-haul clients who had intended to come on holiday, but were deterred by the bureaucracy and intrusiveness.

This is entirely understandable. The prospect of completing a visa process is a daunting one for a potential visitor. Anyone wanting to come to the UK from, say, China has to make an appointment at a visa processing centre (which can be 500 miles away), complete a form in English (not just a foreign language, but a foreign script), be photographed and fingerprinted (a process associated with criminality) and then interviewed; they are then charged £70, with no guarantee of being granted a visa.

The offensiveness of this process is keenly felt, particularly in societies where individual dignity is important. “There is no privacy for applicants,” said one Chinese travel agent, “They are asked to provide a letter from their employer to prove that they have leave for the proposed period of travel and for the employer to specify where they are going to be travelling. This would never happen in Europe.”

There is a perception of misplaced arrogance. “What is there to like about the UK visa process?” wrote an agent in the Middle East, “Long queues, delays in paperwork, costly, too short working-hours; the attitude of the staff make the applicant feel that they are doing him a big-time favor by accepting or even considering his application.” It is hardly surprising that, as a whole, we are considered as “as over-cautious, a little arrogant and slightly racist.”

The most ludicrous problem occurs when a client, requiring a visa, wishes to go on a tour of both Britain and Ireland. They have to buy two separate multiple entry visas, necessary for permission to travel to and from Northern Ireland from the Republic. The idiocy occurs when the client, having obtained £155 worth of visa, finds that no one looks at their passport at the Irish border.

The UK and Ireland demand separate visas for a common border area. It is difficult to find a more abjectly stupid application of bureaucracy than this.
Said Tom Jenkins, Executive Director of ETOA: “The new Tourism Strategy, launched ten days ago, acknowledges that there are difficulties. But the scale of the problem is such that it is not addressed by issuing guidance notes for applicants in their own language. The cost to the UK in foreign exports is between a half and three quarters of a billion pounds per year. Thousands of jobs are being lost though this surly and alienating stance towards our customers.”