Museums prepare for more Chinese visitors - Museums Association

Museums prepare for more Chinese visitors

UK is to simplify visa applications for Chinese tourists
Barney Weston
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UK museums could see an increase in Chinese visitors following changes to the visa system.

The UK is to simplify visa applications for Chinese visitors through a partnership with Belgium, which will be known as the UK-Belgian Visitor Service. This will allow for travel permits for Britain and European Schengen area countries to be processed in the same centre.

Following lobbying from UK retailers and business groups, Chinese visitors can now pay for both their UK and Belgian visas online, submit one set of supply documents and then book one appointment in either Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai from 1 July as part of a pilot programme.

This differs from the previous system, which required Chinese visitors to submit two separate applications, often forcing them to choose between visiting either the UK or mainland Europe.

The decision has been welcomed by the tourism and heritage sectors. Bernard Donoghue, the director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) said:  “This is a great move forward and something we have been advocating for some time.”

The British Hospitality Association has also supported the announcement, citing recent Office of National Statistics data showing a 17% drop in 2014 of Chinese business travellers compared to 2013 as evidence that “today’s announcement is another step in the right direction to drive growth and jobs at a crucial time in the UK’s recovery.”

Donoghue has said ALVA “must ensure that visitor attractions are ‘China-ready’. That means looking at signage, language provision, catering, working with knowledgeable ground-handlers and tour operators and taking the credit and debit cards which Chinese visitors use and prefer”.

Katie Childs, the policy and projects manager at the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) referenced a recent project led by the British Council (and supported by Arts Council England and NMDC), which concluded that museums can make some low-cost changes to become more attractive to international tourists.

"These include making changes to the café menu to serve hot water and non-sandwich options, including the proximity of the museum to London or regional airports in terms of time in marketing material, or working with international tour operators to be included in their schedules," she said. 

Janneke Greene, the head of business development at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, said that “much like other overseas tourists, most Chinese tourists will make London the focus of their first trip to the UK, with other destinations around the country more likely to feature on subsequent trips.”

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