Last year, London Mayor Boris Johnson heralded the just-completed London 2012 Summer Olympic Games as a triumph for the city and a magnet for tourism and foreign investment. But this open invitation, apparently, didn’t extend to China. Two months prior to the Games, the British Ambassador in Beijing, Sebastian Wood, labeled the U.K. “a fortress” to potential Chinese visitors.
This year, the UN World Tourism organization marked Chinese tourists as the single biggest source of income in global tourism: As a group, they spent $102 billion overseas in 2012, more than 30 percent more than visitors from other countries. But while a single Schengen visa enables tourists to gain entry into most countries in the EU, the U.K. requires a separate visa that costs almost twice as much. This, Wood argued, deterred wealthy Chinese tourists from visiting the country, and caused the U.K. to lose significant revenue to European neighbors such as France and Germany.
Last month, in an effort to undo the image of this “British fortress” and smooth ruffled feelings over Prime Minister David Cameron’s 2012 meeting with the Dalai Lama, London sent a small delegation on a five-day mission to China. Among the delegates were London Mayor Boris Johnson and the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, whose visit began in Beijing on October 14. In clear contrast to previous high-level trade visits to China, both men steered clear of political controversy, as Mayor Johnson sidestepped human rights questions while Osborne confirmed that “the prime minister is not planning to meet the Dalai Lama.” Instead, the visit focused exclusively on trade, with both sides expressing hope that the prime minister may visit China later this year.