Under pressure from Beijing to simplify its visa system, Britain has announced that Chinese tourists will be able to use the same website to apply for a British and a Schengen visa, which allows travel to almost all other EU countries.
But Home Secretary Theresa May's announcement did not include fresh measures to help business travelers, and all Chinese applicants for British visas will still have to visit a separate U.K. visa center in person to process biometric data.
Retailers and travel agencies have long warned that the UK's insistence on remaining outside the border-free Schengen area covering most of Europe meant Britain was missing the economic boost given to capitals such as Paris and Berlin by Chinese tourism.
Around 90 per cent of Chinese tour groups who come to Europe omit Britain, resulting in £1.2 billion of lost revenue each year, according to research published by the U.K. China Visa Alliance on Monday. Chinese visitors spend 64 per cent more than the average overseas visitor.
The drawbacks of the current system were highlighted last week when China's ambassador to the U.K., Liu Xiaoming, told journalists that Britain had fallen behind France and Germany in Beijing's estimation, partly because of its burdensome visa regime.
"Visa restrictions are eroding Britain's strength," Mr Liu said, ahead of a visit by the Chinese premier this week. He added that UK efforts to tackle the problem to this point had been "far from enough".