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UK, Ireland join forces to lure more Chinese visitors

By Zhang Chunyan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-23 10:34

With its sunny weather and long days, summer is always a peak season to travel. Obviously, in Britain, I see many more tourists during this season.

Outside Buckingham Palace or at the British Museum, at the University of Oxford or Windsor Castle, there are many travel groups speaking Chinese.

But the British government and businesses don't seem satisfied with the situation. A shared UK-Ireland travel visa due to be piloted this year is aimed at boosting long-haul traffic, especially from China, whose tourists are known to be high-spending.

While continental destinations are currently leading Europe's race to attract Chinese visitors, the new "mini-Schengen" initiative could boost figures for the UK and Ireland by easing rules for tours that cover both countries.

In 2011, Ireland waived visa requirements for tourists from 17 non-EU countries, including China, once they obtained a UK visa. A 21 percent increase in visitors from those nations over the first year of the waiver program prompted the Irish government to extend it to 2016.

Li Penghuan, a visitor from China's Yunnan province, just finished a 14-day trip to the UK and Ireland. "I visited some European countries before, not including the UK. This time, the tour agency suggested we travel to the two countries together on an in-depth program."

UK, Ireland join forces to lure more Chinese visitors

Chinese tourists who want to visit the UK have to apply for a separate visa and have their fingerprints taken in China, while the Schengen visa allows them passage to 26 European countries with one application.

Research commissioned by the governments of the UK and Ireland found they must improve their appeal to Chinese travelers.

PA Consulting and Cambridge Econometrics said in its report that the UK lags behind countries such as France in attracting Chinese visitors.

Similar plans or claims about Chinese tourists are often heard. Several days ago, a top board member of British retail company John Lewis was selected to lead a campaign by British businesses to encourage more Chinese tourists.

On July 19, Andrew Murphy was announced as chairman of the UK Chinese Visa Alliance, a coalition of retail and business organizations, whose members include Burberry, Harrods and Mulberry.

The coalition has been pressing the government to make it easier for Chinese nationals to apply for UK visas, warning that Britain is losing out on vital tourism spend to rivals in Europe. "The Chinese consumer is by far the largest spender among overseas visitors to the UK, and that spending is a vital area of growth if we are to remain globally competitive as a visitor destination," Murphy said.

Contact the writer at zhangchunyan@chinadaily.com.cn

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