The UK government has taken a long-awaited step towards simplifying the visa process for Chinese visitors, prompting retailers to capitalise.

Under the new pilot initiative, unveiled by the Home Office today, Chinese tourists will be able to submit visa applications for both the UK, Belgium and the Schengen area without having to visit two different application centres.

The Schengen area comprises 26 European countries including France, Germany, Italy and Spain, that have scrapped passports and any other types of border control at their common borders.

British businesses – including high profile retailers – have long lobbied the government to simplify the visa process, as Chinese shoppers are the world’s most valuable tourist market.

Figures from 2013 showed the UK attraced 7% of the total number of Chinese visitors to the EU and Chinese tourists typically spend £1,676 per visit to the UK. However France attracts 25% more Chinese tourists each year.

One-stop shop

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “This scheme will create a one-stop shop for Chinese visitors to the UK and Europe, whether they are coming here for business or leisure.”

The scheme, first touted in 2013, will be introduced as a pilot scheme at the UK’s Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai visa application centres, kicking off on July 1.

Tom Ironside, the British Retail Consortium’s director of business and regulation said: “We welcome this streamlining as an important step in making it easier for visitors from a key overseas market to come to the UK and make the most of one of the world’s leading retail experiences.”

Gordon Clark, head of commercial UK and Ireland at Global Blue, a founding member of the UK China Visa Alliance (UKCVA), added: “Today’s announcement is due recognition of the great work of the UKCVA and for the impact these high-spending tourists have across retail, leisure and hospitality and will boost Chinese visitor numbers in the long term and help us compete with other European destinations.”