U.K. Government told to relax tourist visas after dip in visitors

Tourism bosses are urging the Government to relax tourist visas after figures showed a 5% dip in UK visitors during August.

The Office for National Statistics released its figures for UK travel and tourism during August yesterday which showed visitor spend was up 9% but arrivals were down 5% from 2011.

This leaves overall visits for the year to date at the same level as 2011.

Figures showed 590,000 overseas visitors indicated that they had come to the UK, either attending a ticketed event, participating or working at the Games themselves during the Olympics and Paralympics.

These visitors spent around £760 million while in the country, on average spending £1,290, almost double what visitors would normally spend.

Grant Hearn, CEO of budget hotel chain Travelodge, said the visitor figures were disappointing during the most momentous month in the history of British tourism.

But he added that there is still a golden opportunity providing the Government enters tourism trade agreements with China, India, Brazil and Russia to relax visa requirements.

He said: “The 2012 Games were never likely to be an instant boost for British tourism, Sydney and Barcelona both show that the real test of the Olympic effect will be seen in the years to come.

“However, experts predict that global tourism will increase by a 60% by 2020 with 50% of growth coming from the four BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

“The current visa regime is deterring Chinese tourists with only 10% of European packages sold in China including a visit to Britain.

“To seize the initiative in critical emerging markets, the US is already ahead of the game and is offering five-year Multiple-Entry Visas for Chinese nationals creating a 46% increase in Chinese tourism since the start of the year.

“It’s a similar story in Europe, France gets eight times more Chinese visitors than the UK and Germany six times our amount.”

Sandie Dawe, chief executive at VisitBritain said: “The first six months of the year saw a record in terms of both the number of holiday arrivals and the amount of spend, and with August’s figures we are now at the same level as we were in 2011.

“The extraordinary exposure Britain received during the Games has provided us with an ideal platform to remind people around the world why a visit to Britain is a must, and we are working hard to deliver a strong finish to the year.”

The national tourism agency is currently consulting with the industry to deliver a blueprint for tourism that will result in 40 million visitors a year by 2020.

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