The United Kingdom is reviewing its visa policies to make it easier for Chinese tourists to travel to the country as part of a worldwide marketing campaign to encourage tourists, business leaders and students to come to Britain.
"We're looking at our entire visa policy to see whether we can make it easier for people who do want to visit UK as tourists to benefit from a more streamlined and quick process," said Jeremy Hunt, the UK's secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport.
"We made substantial improvements last year and we'll continue to review whether we can do better," Hunt said at a news conference on Wednesday in Shanghai for the launch of the UK's GREAT Campaign.
China has seen a rapid increase in outbound travel in recent years and Chinese tourists are spending handsomely during their overseas trips.
Figures from the China National Tourism Administration showed that Chinese people made 70.25 million visits to other countries or regions last year, making the country the largest source of outbound tourists in Asia.
But according to Hunt, the number of Chinese tourists to the UK stands at around 120,000 a year, a small share of the approximately 3 million Chinese traveling to Europe every year.
"I think that is pitifully low," said Hunt, who meanwhile underscored the challenge of deterring those aiming to immigrate to the country illegally.
"Britain is a popular destination for tourists but also a popular destination for people who say they will come as tourists but are actually coming to live and work in the UK. We have the responsibility to secure the borders of the UK to make sure people who come to the UK are people coming for legitimate reasons."
As such, a strict visa policy as well as complicated processes and materials for visa application imposed by the country has turned many away, including potential tourists, Chinese travel agencies said.
"For example, the country asked Chinese applicants for tourism visas to show original copies of important credentials, such as a certificate of property ownership and a household registration book, and leave them at the visa center for three to four weeks. Many of our customers are reluctant to do that," said Gu Cang, an assistant manager at SAL Tour, a Shanghai-based travel agency.
Also, the UK, unlike other European Union countries, requires fingerprint screening for tourism applicants, he added.
But it seems the UK has realized the power of Chinese tourists who, according to the nonprofit organization World Luxury Association, spent a record $7.2 billion on luxury goods overseas in January alone, mostly during the Spring Festival holiday.
"We understand the importance of the Chinese market," Hunt said. "We want to say to the Chinese who have been to Britain: Come back again, we'd love to see you and make you feel welcome. To the many millions in China who have not been to Britain, we would love you to come on holiday."
In Shanghai, the first of the two stops in China to promote the campaign, the UK also invited some Chinese who do business and study in the country.
An area that the UK wants to highlight in 2012 is the potential of more British companies as business partners to China, Hunt said. "In particular we want to focus on the creative, digital and technology industries."
Last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron initiated the British government's GREAT Campaign, inviting visitors worldwide to take a fresh look at everything the UK can offer in 2012.
The goal for the three-year global campaign is to attract 4.6 million visitors to the country in the next four years. It is estimated the additional visitors will spend 2.3 billion pounds and create nearly 60,000 new employment opportunities.