Leading tourism bodies in the UK have called into question’s the Government’s support for the tourism sector, following a tightening of visa requirements and new air passenger duty regulations.
VisitBritain has said the high cost of visas and the bureaucracy obtaining one is putting off people from visiting Britain. UKinbound has taken a similar stance, as well as calling for a delay in the new system for Air Passenger Duty, which comes into force later this year.
The news follows Jacqui Smith, home secretary, adding South Africa to the list of countries whose citizens require visas to visit Britain. South Africans will need to provide fingerprints and require a six-month visa, costing £65. They make up the fifth biggest market for the UK inbound market, with 168,000 tourists to the UK in 2007, and 46,200 business visitors.
Christopher Rodrigues, VisitBritain chairman, said he respected the fact that the Home Office had national security interests with visas, but added: “Wherever a visa regime is needed, it is an additional barrier to travelling.”
VisitBritain said visa fees had risen 75 per cent since 2006, and claimed that their costs were the reason many tour operators and independent travellers did not include the UK in European tours. France, for example, received 750,000 visitors from China in 2007, but the UK took in only 150,000.
The visa threatens VisitBritain’s promotion of UK as a destination in key growth markets such as China, India, Russia and the UAE.
Meanwhile UKinbound has criticised the new Air Passenger Duty. At the annual UKinbound Convention in Manchester, chairman Philip Green said the Government is ‘“supporting” us by complicating & increasing APD and by extending the reach of VISA costs requirements. Is that the kind of support we need?”
Green blamed Government for hindering tourism and cancelling the effect of the weak pound by charging high taxes for overseas visitors.
Green said: “Air Passenger Duty adds so much to the cost of a long haul arrival that any reduction in the currency value will be wiped out. And when the currency is not in our favour the APD is a huge hindrance. It’s some £560 in economy class for a family of 4 coming from a long haul destination.”
Mr Green also criticised the introduction of compulsory visas for visitors to the UK from South Africa, Bolivia and Venezuela.
He said: “So now we have more requirement and barriers to entry for genuine tourists at a time when we have been asking Government to support the industry with proportionate measures.”
Green did however praise the Government in its acknowledgment of the importance of tourism, by referring to it as “a huge step forward” and one that UKinbound wants to see “extended in terms of true partnership working”.