The announcement from the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, that the British government is to implement Chinese visa changes, could be a ‘game changer’ for top UK golf clubs, according to an industry insider.
Mr Osborne has told students at Beijing University that he will launch a pilot scheme in which some Chinese travel agents will be able to apply for UK visas by submitting the application form used for the European Union’s Schengen visa.
Currently Chinese tourists can visit 26 countries in Europe via the one Schengen visa, yet if they want to visit Britain they have to fill out a separate application form, which is also more expensive. This is partly why France, for example, gets about ten times as many visitors from China than the UK, even though surveys in China have found more interest in visiting the UK than France.
Some in the golf industry have been calling for a relaxation of the Chinese visa application process for a number of years. This is particularly because a poll of millionaires in China by China.org.cn found that golf is far and away their most popular sport and travelling is by some distance their favourite leisure activity.
This is on top of a survey from VisitScotland last year that found that the average Chinese tourist spends £770 on a holiday to Scotland, more than tourists from any other nation, including £70 more than the average American tourist.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “Many wealthy Chinese visitors want to come to Scotland to play golf and buy luxury items such as whiskey.”
Golf is also booming in China at the moment. The country’s first course was built less than 30 years ago, but it had 200 venues by 2010. Today it has 600 with another 400 due to be built in the next seven years. A New York Times report on golf in China this summer concluded that there is still a shortage of courses due to growing demand. That demand has grown particularly because two 14-year-old Chinese boys, Andy Zhang and Guan Tianlang, have qualified for two majors in the last 18 months (and 12-year-old Ye Wocheng played on the European Tour this year).
The announcement from Osborne also comes three years after Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, launched a brochure specifically on Scottish golf clubs, for a major Chinese tour operator, as Chinese golf tourists were then worth £7 million a year to the country.
Earlier this year Mission Hills Golf Group in China, the world’s largest golf facility, also donated a six-figure sum to fund the development of an archive of golf photography in St Andrews in Scotland.
“These changes will streamline and simplify the visa application process for Chinese visitors, while ensuring the system is strong and secure. This is good news for British business and tourism,” said the chancellor.
“There is huge – and growing – interest in China to come to the UK to play golf, but the process of doing that is so expensive and cumbersome that most tourists go to Europe instead,” said one industry insider. “This announcement could open the floodgates to Chinese visitors coming to the UK. It could be a game changer for any top UK golf club that has struggled to attract visitors with expensive green fees in recent years.”