Chinese tourists continue to boost UK fashion as EU visitor numbers drop

The UK remains an attractive destination for tax-free tourist shoppers and Chinese travellers are becoming ever more important, especially with Britain unable to rely so much on spending by EU nationals as Brexit becomes a reality.


The West End of London is a magnet for international visitors

That’s according to tax-free shopping specialist Global Blue and with 750,000 fewer EU nationals coming to the UK to visit last year (source: Office for National Statistics), it’s encouraging that visitors from further afield continue to stream in.

Chinese New Year kicks off this week and Global Blue said that international spend is set to increase by 4% year-on-year over the next 90 days, driven by Chinese visitors.

Chinese tourists continue to make up the largest share of visitors to the UK (32%) and they have one of the highest average spends of any national group.

The company said that insight from tourist body Visit Britain shows that Chinese flight booking are up 24% year-on-year and with average spend per month by visitors from China, Hong Kong and Singapore being higher in 2018 compared to the previous year, hopes are high that spending will be strong in 2019 too.

Not that the company is necessarily predicting that the high double-digit increase in visitors will translate into a similar percentage rise as far as actual spending is concerned. It said that "transactions are expected to soften from Chinese visitors as consumer confidence dips as a result of the economic slowdown in mainland China.”

But with Chinese tourists’ tax-free spend having been an average of £919 last year (topped only by Qatar and UAE who spent an average of £1,512 and £1,011), the prospects are still good.

And they’re particularly good for the luxury fashion sector with Chinese visitors saying they’re most likely to spend their money on leathergoods and bags (accounting for 35% of the sales of these items in-store), followed by shoes and accessories (26%) and fashion items (24%).

Derrick Hardman, MD UK and Ireland at Global Blue said: “Following a year of uncertainty amidst Brexit, it is comforting to see that visitors from outside the EU continue to value the UK. The Chinese New Year is a prime time for the Chinese to travel and they continue to rank the UK as a top destination due to the unique combination of luxury retailers, culture, history and excellent service.”

And the impact of Chinese shoppers is particularly important in central London. Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses, added: “Chinese visitors are a significant international customer in London’s West End, accounting for a quarter of all non-EU tax-free spend in 2018. On average, Chinese customers spend £1,630 per shopping trip in the West End, making them 59% more valuable than other international shoppers.”

He said that while overall spend by Chinese shoppers in the West End fell by 8% in 2018, where they did spend, their average transaction value was up 3%, making those shoppers even more valuable.

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