China and US drive UK tourist spend still higher in December

Tourist spend in the UK grew strongly last year and surged in December, with a continuing strong rise expected in 2017, according to Global Blue.


The UK, and London stores in particular, benefitted from a surge in tourist spending in December said Global Blue


December’s tourist spend increased 23% year-on-year as Asian and American shoppers in particular continued to make the most of favourable exchange rates and the British luxury industry’s festive offering. December saw the rise of historically small-spend markets, such as Taiwan, demonstrating the extent of the Brexit vote’s impact.

Although accounting for only 1% of total international tax free spend, visitors from Taiwan spent 177% more than December 2015, while those from Hong Kong, accounting for 5% of total international tax free spend, saw an increase of 115%.

Global Blue, which is the biggest specialist business worldwide in facilitating tax-free shopping, said Chinese shoppers were the group accounting for the largest portion of UK international spend and spent 46% more than December 2015. Visitors from the US – the second biggest spending nation – saw spend rising by 77%.

Gordon Clark, Global Blue’s MD for UK and Ireland, said:“Although the UK has always been a top destination for global travellers, 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 travellers.

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

The strong performance in December helped the full-year figure rise 14% compared with 2015. Global Blue said tax-free spend had risen only 2% in 2015 and had actually fallen the year before.

For the year overall, shoppers from Taiwan accounted for the biggest increase in spend of  42% year-on-year, followed closely by those from the US at 40%.

Visiting shoppers’ average spend increased by 11% for the year compared to 2015. Middle Eastern nations continued to spend the most on average per transaction. Qatari visitors accounted for the highest average spend at £1,695 per transaction, followed by Saudi Arabia at £1,049 and Thailand, spending £1,023 for 2016.

Ros Morgan, chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, said that London appeared to be a key beneficiary: “London’s West End welcomes more than 400m visitors every year – and this number is growing. In December alone, Global Blue’s figures show tourist spend up 21% across London and full-year figures increased 15%.”

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