International tourist spending in the U.K. dipped 3 percent in 2014 versus the previous year, according to figures from Global Blue released this week, in what the tax-free shopping specialist called “a weak year for growth.” But a surge in spending in December meant that tourist spending for that month alone rose 11 percent compared to December 2013.  “In what has been a slower year for international spend, it is encouraging for retailers to see strength over this period,” said Gordon Clark, U.K. country manager for Global Blue.

Global Blue said that the December rise “shows how Christmas has become an increasingly important date in the global shopper calendar, overriding the effects Black Friday discounts had on domestic spend.” He noted that international shoppers are drawn by the tax free shopping the country offers tourists, rather than the early season discounts that have been driving spending by domestic customers at some U.K. retailers. The December spending was spearheaded by shoppers from China, who made up 25 percent of the month’s tourist spend, followed by consumers from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Chinese tourists spent an average of 756 pounds, or $1,144 per transaction in December, with shoppers from Kuwait spending 621 pounds, or $939 and those from Qatar 1,406 pounds, or $2,127, the highest average spend per transaction.
But shoppers from Russia didn’t figure amongst Global Blue’s top ten of international spenders in the U.K. during December, as spending by Russian consumers fell 28 percent over the whole of 2014, compared to 2013, in the wake of its troubled economy and falling currency. Global Blue noted that Russian tourists are now “facing costs that, in rouble terms, have doubled over the last year, disinclining them to travel.”
As to the coming year, Global Blue quoted the European Travel Commission as saying that Russian outbound tourism is expected to continue its decline in 2015. The organization noted that alongside the falling rouble, Russian tourists are concerned about facing “hostility” in Europe following the country’s role in military action in the Crimea.
Overall, Global Blue said that Visit Britain, which promotes tourism in the U.K., expects international spending in the U.K. to rise 4.5 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year, to 22.2 billion pounds, or $33.6 billion. Global Blue said it expects a rise in spending from Chinese and Middle Eastern shoppers, with tourists from those regions attracted by tax free shopping, and the relaxation of visa rules for Chinese visitors.

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