Visa applications from Chinese travellers up 177% over last seven years, new figures reveal


New Home Office figures, analysed by UK China Visitor Alliance (UKCVA), show that visa applications from Chinese travellers are up a staggering 177 % over the last seven years. In 2018, Britain issued over 587,000 visas to Chinese visitors, 56,000 (12%) more than in 2017.

The rise in the number of Chinese visitors stems from a range of initiatives introduced by the Government, its tourism agency VisitBritain and other partners, including the UKCVA. The Alliance was founded in 2012 by New West End Company, London First, Walpole, Global Blue and McArthurGlen to explore and promote ways to encourage more Chinese travellers to visit and spend in Britain.

With the UN World Tourism Organisation listing Chinese tourists as the world’s top spenders, the growth in visitor numbers has pushed Chinese visitors to the number one spot for international shoppers in the UK.  Chinese visitors, who spend on average £1,113 per transaction in the UK, generated over £1billion (£932m) of tax-free sales in 2018 according to data from Global Blue.

Despite the rise in visitor numbers, 2018 saw a decline in transactions, down 10.3% compared to 2017, with the total sales volume also declining by 8.2% from Chinese travellers, reflecting the slowdown in the Chinese economy. Nonetheless, Chinese tourists still offer huge opportunities for further growth. Less than 9 % of the Chinese population hold a passport, according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, compared with 77% of Brits. The Institute predicts that by 2030, 400 million Chinese citizens will take foreign holidays. 

In the five years from 2012-17 the 152% increase in Chinese visitors to the UK outperformed the 104% growth in the Schengen area.

Brian Bickell, chairman of the UK China Visitor Alliance, stated that: “Chinese visitors are already the biggest international shoppers and the potential for growth is enormous.  But there is great competition globally to attract these high-spending visitors.”

It’s therefore more important than ever that businesses and Government continue to work together to promote UK as an attractive destination for Chinese visitors. Our collaborative approach to showcase the UK as a great place to visit is paying off”

Derrick Hardman, managing director UK and Ireland at Global Blue, added: “Clearly Chinese tourists remain among the highest oversees spenders in the UK and continue to enjoy the outstanding first class retail offer here. However, these figures highlight that there is scope for an even greater number of Chinese tourist to spend and visit the UK. London still holds its global reputation as a top destination for shopping and we are optimistic that this will remain through continued collaborative work.”

In 2014 the Home Office adopted a range of initiatives proposed in the UKCVA report “Building on Progress”, which has made it easier for Chinese visitors to apply for both a UK and Schengen visa so that they could more easily add the UK to a multi-country European trip.

In 2018 UKCVA partnered with VisitBritain to establish The Chinese Visitor Working Group (CVWG), which brings together government departments and agencies, tourism and retail organisations, major retailers and other tourism businesses to encourage more Chinese visitors and increased spending.

The CVWG is current looking at initiatives to recruit more Mandarin speakers in shops and hotels, reduce queues at major airports, improve the tax-free shopping system, market to high-net worth Chinese and making the visa application process even simpler.