European countries compete for Chinese travelers

Updated: 2014-12-20 07:40

By Xu Lin(China Daily)

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Some European countries such as the United Kingdom and France have shortened and simplified their visa application procedures for Chinese applicants this year, aiming to lure more Chinese travelers.

"We have seen demand for UK visas continue to grow since 2010, and China is now the UK's largest visa market," says Dominique Hardy, (interim) regional director - Asia-Pacific, visas and immigration service, home office, at the British Embassy in Beijing.

This year, the UK has launched the British-Irish Visa scheme, which allows Chinese visitors to Ireland to use their valid Irish short-stay visa for onward entry to the UK, or their UK visitor visa for travel to Ireland.

 European countries compete for Chinese travelers

According to the European Commission, making access to the Schengen area easier will bring more friends, relatives and business from China. Photos Povided to China Daily

It also introduced the 24 hour Super Priority Visa service to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and aligned UK visa application form with the Schengen form.

Flexible visa systems

"The UK already offers one of the most flexible visa systems in China, providing customers with a range of options for faster processing and added convenience. We will continue to make improvements to our service in response to our customers' needs," Hardy says. The UK now has 12 visa application centers across China, more than any other country.

Statistics show that in the first eight months of the year, more than 320,000 visas for UK visits were issued to Chinese tourists, the highest number ever, and a 13 percent increase over the same period the year before.

"The most important thing is to be honest in one's application and to only submit genuine documents. Remember that 96 percent of Chinese that apply for a visa, get one," says Hardy.

According to the European Commission, making access to the Schengen area easier will facilitate visiting friends and relatives and doing business. It will improve economic activity and job creation in the tourism industry and in related activities such as the restaurant and transport sectors.

One of its studies in 2013 shows more flexible and accessible visa rules could lead to an increase in trips to the Schengen area of between 30 and 60 percent.

While biometric data collection for UK visa applications was rolled out in China from October 2007, all Schengen states' consulates in China plan to collect fingerprints and a digital photograph of Schengen visa applicants starting next year, thanks to the implementation of the upcoming Visa Information System.

Biometric data

"Biometric data helps keep visa applicants and their families safe from crime and terrorism by ensuring that we can make travelling to, and being in the UK more secure. It means that visa applicants won't be accidentally mistaken for another person with the same or similar name," Hardy says.

The Visa Information System is a central database for the exchange of data on short-stay visas between authorities of the Schengen States. It helps streamline visa application procedures and checks at the external borders of the Schengen area.

European countries compete for Chinese travelers

For subsequent visa applications within five years the fingerprints can be copied from the previous application file in the system. Biometric data, along with the data provided in the Schengen visa application form, will be stored in the system's central database.

According to the German embassy in Beijing, biometric technology is used commonly in the European Union and worldwide to make travel documents more secure. Initiatives will continue to be taken to make the delivery of visas for travelling to the Schengen area easier and quicker for regular travelers.

When Premier Li Keqiang visited Germany in October, both China and Germany agreed to try to shorten the visa process to 48 hours from the current three to five working days.

Germany now has five visa application centers in China - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenyang - and has already made requests to open six more in major Chinese cities in order to facilitate application procedures for Schengen applicants.

According to the German National Tourist Board, the top four European destinations for Chinese who travel overseas are Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. The top four favorite German cities among Chinese visitors are Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin and Cologne.

Li Zhaohui, director of the German tourist board's Beijing office, says Chinese tourists like pretty cities, leisure, scenic spots, delicious cuisine and various museums in Germany.

She is confident that Chinese travellers will be attracted to the agency's 2015 tourism promotions, ranging from traditions and customs, arts, and lifestyle, to the various regional cuisines.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and China. The French embassy has shortened its processing time for the short-stay individual visa applications of Chinese citizens to 48 hours and simplified the application documents.

Easy application

Chinese can apply at the embassy or any of the French consulates in China, rather than having to apply at the city of their household registration. While helping Chinese to deal with their primary concern for overseas trips - visa applications - countries are also organizing colourful tourism events and promotion plans to attract more Chinese visitors.

For example, VisitBritain, the UK's national tourism agency, recently launched the Great Naming Campaign - Great Chinese Names for Great Britain.

This invites Chinese to use their creativity and innovation to think of Chinese names for the 101 suggested points of interest and submit the names on the campaign microsite. These places are being released over nine weeks with nine categories such as food, movies and luxury shopping. All the new Chinese names are likely to be unveiled in March 2015.

(China Daily 12/20/2014 page19)