Andrew Henderson

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Freedom

Why western countries should let Chinese tourists visit visa-free

Old habits die hard. So do stereotypes of other countries and their wealth.

That includes antiquated visa policies that are closing doors in western markets around the world.

While the UK appears to be entering its third recession in four years, business leaders there are warning that their country is missing out on the spending power of China’s rising middle and upper classes thanks to its antiquated visa policies that put Chinese travelers through the ringer.

The red tape makes it more difficult for Chinese to visit the UK, where they spend three times the average of all tourists. If you’ve traveled almost anywhere, you’ve no doubt seen Asian tourists stocking up on luxury goods like handbags and apparel.

From Rome to London to Los Angeles, these consumers, especially wealthy Chinese who don’t trust the quality of products at home, are top spenders and drivers of the economy.

Yet, many in the west still harbor the illusion that if we don’t make Chinese tourists fill out a nine-page form in duplicate (as is the case in Britain), they might come and take over the country and never return.

All the while, we’ve forgotten just why these tourists visit the west – to shop, sightsee, and then return to a country that provides them with a rising income, an optimistic future, and none of the unemployment rates from 11 to 25% that plague Europe.

The US isn’t much better. Besides being frequently voted the “least friendly” country to enter as voted by travelers, I have friends in China who have driven to their nearest US consulate, often hours away, only to pay hundreds of dollars in visa fees, get shoddy service, and be mocked.

I’ve seen it myself firsthand.

Ben Elliot, owner of a private members club in London, said “Victorian bureaucracy” makes Chinese visitors say they feel “like criminals”. He seconds the notion that Britain’s home office takes the arrogant tack that these tourists will escape to Chinatown, never to leave and never to be heard from again.

On the heels of a report that Asia is home to the world’s largest number of billionaires, overtaking North America for the first time – and by a factor of 40% – many western countries continue to make it difficult to attract high-value tourism from the world’s two largest population centers.

With Asian unemployment rates in the low single digits compared to Europe and the United States’ much higher rates, you would think dwindling western economies would need all the cash they can get.

I suspect that the sequester nonsense currently going on in the US is all the answer one needs, however, that these governments would rather bury their heads in the sand and pretend it’s still 1900.

UPDATE 4/13/14: Italy has recently made it easier for Chinese tourists to apply for visas in China. I believe this will bring a boost to Italian tourism, considering Chinese travelers spend $110 billion abroad every year.

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