Visit Britain claims the UK is losing billions in tourism revenue

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Visit Britain, the UK's main tourism body, says the country is losing billions of pounds in tourist revenue due to its expensive and difficult to navigate visa system. Visit Britain believes that easing UK visitor visa rules "could deliver £2.8bn extra from tourism".

Foreign tourism is worth £18bn a year to the UK economy and is the country's third largest generator of foreign income. Prime Minister David Cameron has urged tourism leaders to do more to attract foreign visitors.

"I want to see us in the top 5 destinations in the world," Cameron said in 2010 when he promised to improve the UK visa system and make it easier and more efficient by 2014.

However, UK tourism bodies are concerned because other European countries are receiving far more visitors than the UK. For instance, France, receives eight times the number of Chinese tourists than the UK, and Germany brings in six times as many.

This is most likely because tourists only have to apply for a single Schengen visa to visit multiple countries in the EU, whereas the UK visitor visa is only valid for UK travel. Countries in the Schengen area include: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and Greece. A visitor who obtains a Schengen visa may travel to all countries that are part of the Schengen agreement.

Furthermore, critics claim the UK's visa application process is more complicated and intrusive, requiring applicants to answer detailed questions on their income, attitude to terrorism; they must also supply biometric data including fingerprints.

The European Travel Operators Association chief executive, Tom Jenkins, said UK visa applicants "just found it too difficult - we have the longest application form of any major destination - the Schengen form is four pages long, ours is nine pages long".

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