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Report claims UK visa process deterring tourists

This week the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) published a report that appeared to confirm that the long queues at Heathrow airport, along with the difficulties in applying for UK visas, are negatively affecting the UK's image to tourists.

The research conducted by ETOA showed that hundreds of millions of pounds are lost to the UK economy every year because the visa process is too stringent; many applicants give up and decide to apply for visas for other countries.

The report compared the cost of a UK tourist visa which is £78 and allows access to the UK and Ireland to the visa fees in other Countries. The Schengen visa seems better value for money; This visa costs €60 (£48) and offers access to 26 European countries.

Additionally, the Schengen visa application form is only three pages long, while the application for the UK visitor visa is eight pages long.

The report also says that as UK visitor visa applicants have to submit fingerprints, a photo, and attend an interview at a location that can be hundreds of miles from where they live, this is deterring many tourists from traveling to the UK. Additionally, applicants may have to wait for as long as three weeks for a visa decision.

The ETOA surveyed travel agents and tour operators; the results showed that 26 percent of Indian and 30 percent of Chinese nationals applying for UK visas gave up rather than endure the lengthy application processing times. As a result, France now welcomes over 50 percent more Indian tourists than the UK.

"Images of queues at Heathrow damage the UK; they make the prospect of a visit here tiresome and unattractive. The damage done by this is major, but is short term: it can be fixed quickly," said Tom Jenkins, Executive Director of ETOA. "The damage done by our visa regime takes place thousands of miles away, where the clients are, in the origin markets. These markets, such as India, China, and Indonesia, are of enormous long-term importance to our strategic growth as a destination. They are being lost."

"The current government is making efforts to improve the speed and experience of obtaining a UK visa. Given the benefits to jobs and investment, this should have the highest priority," Jenkins added.

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