The task of making it easier for our upmarket retailers to relieve newly wealthy Chinese visitors of their hard earned rewards has been occupying the thoughts of our politicians and business folk . The fact that the French seem to have been materially more successful at this has made the job even more pressing (but see below for a specifically Chinese take on this phenomenon).
Running in parallel has been one of the more intriguing political sideshows of the last year or so -exasperating and entertaining in broadly equal measure -Theresa May's 'Dance of the Seven Visas'( revised). It's a performance that, to be honest, tantalisingly promises rather more than it ever intends to reveal.
It began immediately after the Olympics triumph when then culture minister Jeremy Hunt announced that we would henceforward be eagerly chasing the remimbi and making it much less irksome for the Chinese to try to spend their holidays - and holiday money- here. And that to that end we would be making the visa application process for Chinese tourists a little less of an obstacle course. Mrs May pointedly gathered her coat around her and let it be known (rather curtly) that we certainly wouldn't be doing anything of the sort.
Every couple of months or so since then it seems we hear that a group of real political heavyweights (with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor along with Vince Cable prominent upon them) have been encouraging Mrs May to unbutton and ungird herself sufficiently to make the process of Chinese tourists swiping their credits cards through New Bond Street and adjacent locations more straightforward. (The approach of the 25 nations of our European 'partners' in the Schengen group who offer the Chinese a single visa for access to all of their shopping malls, charge less for it and have a less exacting application process is generally cited.)
All the entreaties produced little more than a glimpse of a well turned - and exceedingly well shod - ankle. We we were frequently assured that - notwithstanding her unyielding commitment to protecting UK borders - the Home Secretary would very shortly be stepping forward to reveal to an avid audience just what it is that she proposes to strip from the process of UK visa application for the Chinese. The most recent of these teases came in the run-up to the Conservative Party Conference a week or so ago when ( and not, I think, for the first time) the idea of a twin tracked- but emphatically separate- process of application for UK visas and those for the Schengen Group was coyly announced. Close observers of the process noted that Mrs May had again done no more than commit herself ( with another coquettish wink, no doubt) to looking at this as an option.
There may however be a slightly greater urgency as it has also been announced that the Prime Minister now has a visit to China scheduled himself and may want to have something very specific and concrete on this front to present to his hosts. It hasn't been bandied about too much but it seems that for more than a little while relations at the highest diplomatic level between Britain and China have been at a distinctly frosty level. The Chinese took some considerable umbrage at a meeting between the Dali Lama and Mr Cameron last year and as a result invitations and visas for British ministers and senior officials to visit China have been in distinctly short supply.
Some movement from the UK side on the visa front might help produce a warmer glow.
My inside information from Chinese colleague involved in the travel industry is that in fact the issue of Chinese visitors to the UK is in fact rather more straightforward than this and that the subtleties of diplomatic process play but a small part. Retailers and other operators of tourist attractions elsewhere in Europe thoughtfully provide generous commission to travel promoters from China to usher clients through their doors and so the deeper-pocketed Chinese find themselves in 'les grandes magasins' of the Rue de Faubourg-St Honore rather than elsewhere. Our chaps apparently find that sort of thing rather beneath them. It was I think a Frenchman (well, ok then, a Corsican) who described the English as a nation of shopkeepers. What he appears to have failed to appreciate was, that unlike the breed in his own adopted country, ours are shopkeepers with standards.
So given that one of the key objectives of Chinese overseas visitors is - at the very least - to save their fare and accommodation costs via purchases made here avoiding Chinese luxury goods taxes, may be it's the world of haute-couture - where Mrs May's attachment to the cover up of Vivienne Westwood trouser suits reveals she also has an interest - that needs to appreciate current travel market realities.