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Government promises easier visas for tourists to Britain.

In a bid to encourage more visitors to the UK, the government has pledged to simplify the visa process.

As part of its new tourism incentive, government plans to make applying for tourist visas to the UK a less daunting prospect have cautiously been accepted by the travel industry. Plans to coordinate visa application hubs with trusted allies such as the US and Australia as well as a simpler process for applicants considered’ low-risk’ will be set in motion.

Improving first impressions and the welcome for UK visitors by upgrading airport terminals and installing more pre-clearance and automation at border controls is also on the cards. According to the European Tour Operators’ Association, the present system is daunting and off-putting, especially for visitors from far-flung Asian locations such as China, with at least 20 per cent of initial enquires lost due to the visa process.

Potential Chinese tourists, still a largely untapped, rapidly growing and potentially highly lucrative market, must arrive by appointment at a visa processing centre, sometimes hundreds of miles distant, complete an application in the English language, be interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed, then pay £70, with no guarantee of a visa. Applicants’ perceptions are of arrogance, not a welcome.

Meanwhile, the government’s incentive as a whole is being criticised for leaving out help for the vast number of Britons who buy foreign holidays from British travel companies. Around 38 million every year take holidays abroad, with travel firms large and small employing staff, paying taxes and VAT and contributing to Britain’s fifth largest revenue provider. The Tourism Minister has refused to speak with any direct representatives of the largest travel companies although he has, apparently, discussed the programme with ABTA.

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