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Chinese visa restrictions are a “straitjacket” on the UK’s superyacht industry, which is missing out on tens of millions of pounds a year because potential buyers cannot easily visit Britain to view boats, it is claimed.
Luxury yacht manufacturers Sunseeker and Princess claim complex entry rules for Chinese citizens are adversely affecting long-term growth prospects at their companies, with Chinese billionaires put off coming to the UK because of the difficulties involved in getting into Britain.
Chinese tourists wishing to visit the UK have to jump through a series of hoops, including getting their fingerprints taken at one of only 12 authorities in China. They must also fill in a lengthy application form.
The British Marine Federation, the trade body for the superyacht sector, said the current visa system was sending wealthy buyers straight into the arms of European competitors, who it is easier for Chinese nationals to visit.
Howard Pridding, chief executive of the BMF, said: “Chinese tourist restrictions are a straitjacket on the UK marine industry which is harming businesses, sapping the economy, and costing local jobs. When a handful of visas can be all that stands in the way of tens of millions of pounds for the UK economy, the current restrictions are clearly not working in the country’s best interests.”
The British leisure marine industry generates around £2.9bn a year, but overseas markets, and China in particular, represent the greatest opportunity for growth. “These are high net worth individuals who want to spend money on British brands. Our European competitors welcome them with open arms,” Mr Pridding said.
Robert Braithwaite, president of Sunseeker, which builds 200 boats a year priced at £300,000 to £22m, said: “Chinese visa problems are impacting on Sunseeker’s long term growth prospects. An important part of the client experience during the decision making process is to visit our shipyard in Poole or a UK boat show. Sunseeker’s Chinese clients and potential buyers are having extreme difficulty in obtaining a visa to visit the UK, being laborious at best and often declined.”
He said potential buyers who are declined visas “decide to visit elsewhere in Europe where the visa process appears smoother”.
Princess Yachts International builds around 300 luxury motor yachts a year, with a price tag from £300,000 to £15m. Chris Gates, managing director, said: “We are finding it increasingly difficult to reach customers in some of our largest markets, such as China and Russia, due to what we believe are unnecessary restrictions and delays in obtaining UK visas. This is becoming a major issue. We know we are losing sales to Italian and French yards and, as the sales opportunities grow in these new markets, so will our lost sales. This is certainly not a level playing field.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “China is one of the UK’s priority markets for tourism and business. Our Chinese visa system already provides an excellent service and we will continue to make further improvements wherever possible, but we will not compromise the security of our border.”