LONDON: British Prime MinisterDavid Cameron on Thursday promised to make the system of issuing visas to Indians quicker and cheaper.
Speaking to UK tourism industry representatives on the need to increase Britain's revenue from tourism, Cameron said, "Measures to help the industry would be speeding up the process of getting visitors' visas for the UK in India and China."
The reference to India is significant because it now provides the largest inflow of tourists from any Asian country, having overtaken Japan. Of the 30 million visitors coming to Britain annually, an estimated 400,000 are from India, making India the 10th largest source of visitors to the UK. And, the numbers are rising rapidly.
A spokesman for the 'Visit Britain' campaign said, "India is terribly important. Prime Minister Cameron even indicated that visa fee may be lowered, thus making it more attractive for Indians to come to the UK."
There has recently been pressure from the British capital's West End and Knightsbridge stores on the UK government to ease visa formalities for visitors from India to enable well-off Indians take advantage of shopping opportunities.
The promise from China is yet to be tapped, as the country languishes in 22nd position among nations furnishing tourists to the UK, whereas the number of Chinese visitors to Germany is about to break into the latter's top 10.
The British PM said, "I want to see us in the top five destinations in the world. But that means being much more competitive internationally." According to UN figures, Britain is in sixth place, behind France, the US, Spain, China and Italy. He then joked, "If we can't always beat Germany at football, then we can beat them at tourism."
In a veiled censure of the previous Labour government, Cameron felt there had been too much emphasis on marketing Cool Britannia, rather than on the UK's heritage. A recent study undertaken on behalf of Visit Britain suggested that tourism's contribution to the British economy has the potential to grow by more than 60% from its present level to Pound 188bn by 2020 and create 264,000 extra jobs, thereby employing 2.89 million people. The UK's current turnover from tourism is Pound 115bn.