UK visa restrictions are deterring Chinese visitors from travelling to the Britain, costing the Treasury around £1.2 billion in lost revenue.

This is denying a valuable source of funding for the UK airports sector, the government has been warned.

A letter from the Airports Operators Association and the UK Travel Retail Forum to culture secretary Maria Miller and trade and investment minister Lord Green urges the government to implement measures which will simplify the country’s visa regime.

Otherwise Chinese tour operators will continue to strike Britain from their itineraries because they view the UK’s visa system as “expensive, bureaucratic and lacking in transparency”.

The letter says: “The only beneficiaries of our continuing reluctance to implement appropriate improvements to the system are our overseas competitors.”

AOA chief executive Darren Caplan said: “Less than 200,000 Chinese visitors came to the UK in 2011, which represents a small proportion of those visiting countries such as France, which receives eight times the number of Chinese tourists, and Germany, which receives six times the number.

“The AOA and UKTRF both believe a key cause of this unwillingness to travel here is our visa system, which people view as expensive, cumbersome and bureaucratic.

“Yet we know that the average Chinese spends heavily when they do visit the UK, on average £1,600 per head, at least twice that of any other visiting nation.

“This represents a huge source of potential revenue for the Treasury, and a shot in the arm to the UK airports sector and travel industry.”

He added: “The prime minister has said he wants the UK to be a top five tourist destination in the world.

“We support this ambition, which if realised would see billions of pounds a year extra enter the UK economy – VisitBritain has estimated that visa liberalisation could deliver £2.8 billion extra from tourism.

“We urge the government to look into this issue as a matter of urgency and take steps to simplify our visa regime.”

UK Travel Retail Forum chairman Sarah Branquinho added: “Chinese visitors who overcome the hurdles to obtain a UK visa are inclined to spend substantially in our airport shops.

“This is evidence that, as well as being highly motivated to visit Britain, many Chinese are both affluent and discerning, displaying an appetite for brands and products with heritage and tradition – precisely those brands and products that our airport retailers are able to offer them.

“Accordingly, any increase in the number of visits the Chinese make to Britain would benefit this vibrant retail sector and the employment it generates.”