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Published on : Friday, February 15, 2013
Tourism bosses warn that London is missing out on up to £100 million of spending because wealthy Indians are choosing to visit France or Switzerland instead.
It comes after David Cameron sought to change perceptions that Britain is unwelcoming towards Indian visitors by saying there is “no limit” on the number of students from the country who can come to study at British universities.
The Prime Minister is heading to India next week leading what has been described as the biggest ever trade delegation to set out from London. One of his top priorities is to encourage more student, tourist and business visitors to Britain.
But one recent advert in the Mumbai Mirror from Raj Travel World urged visitors to abandon their UK visa applications because of the “loss of peace of mind” involved.
It read: ”OK, you did everything for the family’s European trip – got the passports, arranged the money, made reservations, applied for the UK Visa well in time, appeared for the visa interview. But til the last minute you have no visa and no idea when you will get it. No wonder your family is made at you.”
It says visitors should withdraw their UK applications and “we will then get you a Schengen (Europe) visa for taking a trip to Europe minus London.”
Indian agents say that visa processing can take two weeks or more and that consulate staff are often unhelpful and suspicious.
A UK short stay visa costs £78, compared to around £53 for a Schengen visa, which allows visitors access to 26 countries.
A family of four from India has to pay a total of £612 in visa charges and aviation tax to travel to the UK.
Research by British tourism chiefs found that one in three Indian visitors who found it diffcult to arrange their trip mentioned problems with obtaining a visa” as their top hassle.
A spokesman for the European Tour Operators Association said: ”Our latest survey of travel agents and tour operators in India found that 26 per cent of clients cancelled their trips to Britain due to slow visa processing. That is equivalent to nearly 100,000 visitors.
“On average a visitor from India is worth around £1000 to the UK economy so this represented a loss of £100 million to UK export earnings.”
Latest figures from the Tourism Alliance suggests France attracts 50 per cent more Indian visitors than Britain, despite the far closer historic links and shared interests in, for example, the game of cricket.
By far the biggest Indian spenders are those arriving to study, who spend on average nearly £4,500.
Tom Jenkins, ETOA executive director said: “Instead of prosperity, we have bureaucracy. Instead of generating visitors, we are generating paper.”