Regent Street


POSITIVE START: Global Blue, the tax-free shopping agency, has released its latest international tax-free spend figures for December 2016, which highlight a continuous growth pattern in tourist spending following June’s Brexit vote.

International tourist spend increased by 23 percent in the month of December, boosting the year’s total spend to double-digit growth. Overall spend in 2016 rose by 14 percent, as opposed to 2 percent in 2015 and a downturn in 2014.

The boost in the British market comes as a direct result of the weak pound post-Brexit, with tourists wanting to make the most of the favorable exchange rates, particularly during the holiday period.

“Although the U.K. has always been a top destination for global travelers, historically our strong currency has been a barrier for many with a desire to visit. The weakened pound has extended the opportunity to a wider group of travelers,” said Gordon Clark, Global Blue managing director for the U.K. and Ireland.

American and Chinese tourists accounted for the majority of the growth, according to Global Blue. In December 2016, shoppers from China, who represent the highest-spending foreign market in the U.K., spent 46 percent more than the previous year, while spending by American visitors went up by 77 percent.

Taiwan was also among the markets showing noteworthy increases. Even though a small market, only representing 1 percent of the U.K.’s total foreign spend, spending from Taiwanese visitors increased 177 percent compared to last year.

Overall, foreign shoppers’ average spend increased by 11 percent for the year, with Middle Eastern shoppers remaining at the top for the highest average spend per transaction. Qatari visitors are said to spend an average of 1,695 pounds, or $2,090 per purchase, followed by Saudi shoppers who average at 1,049 pounds, or $1,293.

Even though retailers are welcoming the benefits of increased foreign spend following Brexit, Clark was more skeptical about the long-term implications of a weak pound.

“This exposure and accessibility has been invaluable and the Brexit vote was undoubtedly a key contributor to the industry’s 2016 growth, but whilst we welcome the immediate boost and exposure, we are yet to understand the decision’s long-term implications,” Clark added.

Predictions remain positive for 2017, with 38.1 million expect to visit the country — an increase of 4 percent on 2016: “These figures align with our 2017 forecast of further growth for retail tourism; driven by the U.K.’s increased exposure in 2016 and the continued devaluation of the pound, until the implications of Brexit are made clear.”

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