The New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, has joined forces with VisitBritain to launch a campaign to lift UK visa restrictions in a bid to boost West End sales.
The Visa-ability Campaign aims for greater flexibility on UK visas for Chinese visitors to the UK, which sees 110,000 visit the UK a year compared with 2 million to the rest of Europe.
Key points of the campaign include freezing visa charges, allowing visitors to make visa applications in local languages and investing in training for immigration staff to offer a quicker and friendlier welcome for visitors.
Chinese shoppers are predicted to be the fastest growing international market for London’s West End, with a 35% rise in spend expected for 2012. Meanwhile West End spend for 2010 is set to exceed £6bn for the first time.
VisitBritain and New West End Company are looking to meet with Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, Tourism Minister John Penrose and Immigration Minister Damien Green to discuss the visa restriction and the opportunities around the London 2012 Olympics.
Jace Tyrrell, director of communications at New West End Company, said: “In the lead up to 2012 with international visitors reaching an all time high, our main territories for concern with the current visa restrictions are China, UAE, Russia, India, South Africa and Thailand.”
He added: “In July of 2009 when visa restrictions were introduced to South Africa, visitor numbers dropped dramatically by 15%. With the Olympic Games just two years away we need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep these international markets.”
Separately, a study by consultancy firm FDKG found that Chinese luxury goods shoppers are outnumbering Russian shoppers by almost 15:1.
Ken Grant, managing director of FDKG, said: “The strength of the Chinese economy, which is growing at 9% per annum, is now having a measurable impact abroad, with many luxury goods retailers and manufacturers benefiting passively from the enormous spending power of the Chinese ultra-rich.
He added: “With UK economic growth likely to be fragile for some time, there are huge opportunities available for the businesses that have the wherewithal to enter this incredibly lucrative market.”