U.K. visa rules could help U.S. superyacht industry

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The U.S. superyacht industry might be benefiting from tough visa restrictions the United Kingdom has on Chinese visitors.

Luxury yacht manufacturers Sunseeker and Princess tell U.K.-based The Daily Telegraph that complex entry rules for Chinese citizens are adversely affecting long-term growth prospects at their companies because Chinese billionaires choose to buy yachts in countries where entry is easier.

Chinese tourists wishing to visit the U.K. have to jump through a series of hoops, including getting their fingerprints taken at one of only 12 authorities in China. They also must complete a lengthy application form. The British Marine Federation, the trade body for the superyacht sector, said the current visa system was sending wealthy buyers straight into the arms of competitors where it is easier for Chinese nationals to visit.

“Chinese tourist restrictions are a straitjacket on the U.K. marine industry, which is harming businesses, sapping the economy and costing local jobs,” Howard Pridding, chief executive of the federation, told the paper. “When a handful of visas can be all that stands in the way of tens of millions of pounds for the U.K. economy, the current restrictions are clearly not working in the country’s best interests.”

Apparently the process in the United States is somewhat simpler. A Chinese magazine geared toward wealthy travelers is promoting the Newport (Calif.) Boat Show, running a full-page ad in its publication this month and flying some of the wealthiest people in Beijing to the April show.

Show producer Duncan McIntosh told Trade Only Today that members of Beijing Sunbelt Media, which produces the publication that goes on Air China’s first-class flights, paid him a visit at his California office in January to inquire about bringing wealthy Chinese visitors to the show.

“They had contacted the Newport visitors bureau, who in turn put them in touch with us,” McIntosh told Trade Only Today in January. “They are promoting anything expensive to the wealthiest Chinese people in Beijing through their airport publication.”

So far, about 20 people have applied for visas for the show, which McIntosh keeps track of because his company supplies letters to each applicant. The group told McIntosh that yacht buyers could spend about half the price to buy a U.S.-built vessel as in China.

Sunseeker president Robert Braithwaite told The Daily Telegraph that the visas were impacting Sunseeker’s long-term growth prospects.

“An important part of the client experience during the decision-making process is to visit our shipyard in Poole or a U.K. boat show,” Braithwaite said. “Sunseeker’s Chinese clients and potential buyers are having extreme difficulty in obtaining a visa to visit the U.K., being laborious at best and often declined.”

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— Reagan Haynes