Willie Walsh, who is the chief executive of International Airlines Group has said that the current visa policies are damaging the UK tourism industry. According to him the government only talks about wanting to do business with China but this does not actually happen, because more liberal visa rules for Chinese citizens who want to visit the UK are needed. International Airlines Group is the company that holds the UK’s flagship carrier British Airways.
In addition to that, the company owns the Spanish aviation company Iberia. Walsh was speaking with journalists on the first-ever flight between the Heathrow airport in London and the airport at Chengdu, the capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan Province. Mr Walsh said that British Airways had been slow to tap into the Chinese market because of several factors. He said that the limited availability of slots at Heathrow had prevented BA from flying to Chengdu and added that the UK’s passenger duty tended to reduce demand from China.
It adds £83 ($133) to every flight to China. The biggest problem, however, was the immigration policy of the UK. His opinion is that a lot of Chinese tourists just do not consider UK as an option due to the complex and expensive visa procedure. For example, it costs just 56 UK pounds to get a visa for the whole Schengen Area and 80 pounds for a visa to the UK. Additional requirements that make the UK tourist visa application process cumbersome include the personal interview that is a must for every applicant and the fingerprints that are required as well.
Mr Walsh said that the visa issue was affecting both tourism and business. He said that the UK economy was likely to suffer in other ways. He said that the UK would ‘need to have more people who speak Chinese and Mandarin.
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