Brexit boosts tax-free shopping as sterling slumps

Figures from shopping specialist Global Blue show overseas tourists in the UK spent 14% more on tax-free sprees last year than they did in 2015.

Tourist spending in December soared by 23% year-on-year as Asian and American shoppers in particular continued to make the most of the favourable exchange rates and the British luxury industry’s Christmas offerings.

Chinese shoppers, the group accounting for the largest portion of UK international spend, spent 46% more than December 2015 and visitors from US – the second biggest spending nation – saw expenditure rise by 77%.

Gordon Clark, Global Blue’s UK and Ireland managing director, 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 who have made the most of the favourable exchange rates allowing them to visit the UK and enjoy our abundance of British shopping and leisure activities at the heart of our culture.

“This exposure and accessibility has been invaluable and the Brexit vote was undoubtedly a key contributor to the industry’s 2016 growth.”

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% year-on-year.

Middle Eastern nations continue to spend the most on average per transaction – Qatari visitors account 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, commented: “London’s West End welcomes more than 400 million visitors every year – and this number is growing.

“We know visitors travel for the ‘British’ experience and across Piccadilly, St James’s and Leicester Square, the festive season catered to this with leisure offerings such as Christmas markets, lights and decorations alongside top-quality, British dining and shopping.”

Global Blue is lobbying for an improved, digital tax-free system, to make shopping easier for tourists – and bring “significant economic benefits to the UK”.

Picture shows shoppers at a London Christmas market © Pawel Libera/London and Partners.