Home secretary Theresa May is set to simplify the visa system to attract more visitors from China which could allow retailers to tap into the lucrative tourists’ spending.

May has agreed to introduce a joint visa application for the UK and other European nations, which would mean that Chinese tourists could apply for a visa to the UK using the same application used by the Schengen group of European Union nations which include France, Germany, Italy and Spain, The Financial Times reported.

Chinese visitors are able to visit any member of the Schengen group on a single visa. But at the moment, Chinese visitors have to apply for a UK visa using a separate system.

Many Chinese visitors to Europe don’t visit the UK because it is not covered by the EU’s Schengen visa and retailers have consistently argued that implementing a joint application process would reduce the UK’s disadvantage.

But May insisted: “We are not going to join Schengen.

“We’re looking at the process of application for our visas and for the Schengen country visas in China to see if there’s more that we can do to streamline those processes for people.”

Harrods and British Airways, among other UK businesses, have been lobbying the Government to simplify the visa process, as Chinese shoppers are the world’s most valuable tourist market, spending $120bn internationally in 2012.  

Currently, the UK attracts 7% of the total number of Chinese visitors to the EU and Chinese tourists typically spend £1,676 per visit to the UK. But more accessible France attracts 25% more Chinese tourists each year.

Research from shopping consultancy Global Blue found that almost €200m (£168m) of potential retail purchase in London’s West End were lost last year directly due to the UK’s visa situation.

However, Home Office figures claim Britain is starting to become more attractive to Chinese visitors with the number of visa applications rising 40% between April and June this year.