LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will look to encourage high spending Chinese tourists to visit the country by introducing a two year multiple-entry visa, the government said on Wednesday during a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Xi’s visit, which included an audience with Queen Elizabeth, is designed to attract Chinese investment and win Britain a lucrative role as foremost Western economic ally to the world’s second-largest economy.
The change to visa rules will look to cash in on the expanding wealth of China’s middle classes by lifting the bureaucracy and costs associated with visiting Britain on holiday.
“It’s focusing on one of the real attractions that we have. The Chinese population like coming here for our culture, our heritage, our retail,” said a spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron.
Chinese visitors are normally issued with a six-month tourist visa at a cost of 85 pounds ($130). The new scheme will, for the same price, issue a two-year tourist visa that allows the holder to leave and return without the need for fresh paperwork.
The scheme is due to be launched in January and could be extended to introduce a 10-year multiple entry visa.
Analysts estimate more than two thirds of luxury purchases by Chinese buyers are made overseas, mainly in shopping hotspots such as Paris, Milan, London, New York and Tokyo, which can offer savings of more than 50 percent compared with China prices.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting Britain has more than doubled over the last five years to 185,000 in 2014. The government estimates that whilst in Britain they contribute 500 million pounds annually to the economy – with each visitor spending an average of 2700 pounds per visit.
“(Chinese tourists) contribute a huge amount to our economy… we want to make the most of that and look at how we can grow that in the coming years,” the spokeswoman said.
Earlier this year, the government took other steps to make it easier for Chinese visitors by allowing tourists and business travellers to apply for British and European visas in one single process.