LONDON - Britain is overhauling its visa system to make it easier for Chinese tourists and businesses to visit the country, interior minister Theresa May said on Monday, marking the start of a visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Li arrived in London on Monday for a three-day official visit which includes an audience with Queen Elizabeth and is aimed at putting aside a recent history of political tension and building closer trade and commercial ties.
Keen to tap into the spending power of tourists from China's expanding middle class and encourage businesses from the world's second-largest economy to deal with Britain, the Home Office announced a streamlined application process for Chinese visitors and a service to grant them visas within 24 hours. "The number of Chinese people coming to Britain to visit and do business is soaring ... these changes will ensure it is easier than ever before to visit the UK," May said in a speech.
Beijing had criticised the previous application process for being overly lengthy, bureaucratic and opaque.
China is the number one luxury spender worldwide, making up 29 per cent of the total global luxury spend in 2013, a December report by consultancy firm Bain & Company said.
Spending by Chinese tourists in Britain is expected to surge over the 1 billion pound mark by 2017, an increase of 84 per cent from 2013 levels, a report commissioned by Barclays said in May. It highlighted increased spending by foreign holidaymakers as a source of growth for the British economy.