Published: Friday, 12 April 2013
Mike Fulton

Visa restrictions for potential Chinese buyers are proving to be like a straitjacket for the UK's superyacht industry, which is losing tens of millions of pounds a year because potential buyers cannot visit Britain to view boats. 

Local builders Sunseeker and Princess reckon these rules, especially for Chinese citizens, are seriously hurting their growth prospects because of the difficulties involved in getting into Britain. These potential buyers have to jump through a series of hoops, including getting their fingerprints taken at one of only 12 authoritised places in China and filling in lengthy application forms. 

The British Marine Federation (BMF) has said the current visa system is sending wealthy buyers straight into the arms of European competitors, who it is easier for Chinese nationals to visit. 

Howard Pridding, BMF’s chief executive, said: "These restrictions are badly affecting the  UK marine industry, harming businesses, sapping the economy and costing local jobs. When a handful of visas can be all that stands in the way of tens of millions of pounds for the UK economy, the current restrictions are clearly not working in the country's best interests. These are high net worth individuals who want to spend money on British brands. Our European competitors welcome them with open arms." 

The British leisure marine industry generates some £2.9bn a year, but overseas markets, particularly China, represent the greatest potential growth.

Robert Braithwaite, president of Sunseeker, which builds 200 boats a year priced at £300,000 to £22m, said: "Visa problems are impacting on our growth prospects. An important part of the client experience during the decision making process is to visit our shipyard in Poole or a UK boat show. Our Chinese clients and potential buyers are having extreme difficulty in obtaining visas. Often they are declined and so they go elsewhere in Europe where the process is smoother."

By comparison, Princess Yachts International builds about 300 luxury motor yachts a year, priced from £300,000 to £15m. Chris Gates, managing director, said: "We are finding it increasingly difficult to reach customers in some of our largest markets, such as China and Russia, due to what we believe are unnecessary restrictions and delays in obtaining UK visas. This is becoming a major issue. We know we are losing sales to Italian and French yards.”

A Home Office spokesman said: "Our Chinese visa system already provides an excellent service and we will continue to make further improvements wherever possible, but we will not compromise the security of our borders.”