Willie Walsh, chief executive of the International Airlines Group, has criticised the government's approach to the UK visa scheme.
Speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Council Summit, Mr Walsh said that he receives a lot of criticisms from business people during his travels, “particularly in growth economies like China, India and Brazil”.
He explained: “You talk about investing or doing business in the UK and they all point to the difficulties, the bureaucracy and the cost associated with getting visas to travel to the UK and highlight the advantage of the Shengen agreement where they can get access to 26 European countries at the cost of less than the price of a UK visa and less hassle.”
The comments come as the travel industry has confirmed that it reached a milestone in business last year with more than one billion travellers crossing international boundaries for the first time ever.
Many of these tourists and business people are coming from China, making it particularly important that developed countries have effective systems in place to facilitate this travel.
Mr Walsh warned that there could even be a backlash if the UK doesn't sort out its visa and work permit systems soon. “Countries which have traditionally made it easy for British people to get access are now getting fed up and saying if you are going to make it difficult for our citizens to get into your country we are going to start doing the same,” he remarked.
In addition to highlighting problems with the country's visa regime, the airline boss dubbed the issues with the development of a third runway at Heathrow “tragic”. He stated that the airport is unlikely to ever gain a third runway due to political pressure as representatives in the area refuse to give their support to a decision that will prove unpopular with local residents, despite its importance to the nation's growth.