Mar 6, 2020
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New retail body works to boost UK's appeal to tourist shoppers

Mar 6, 2020

A new UK retail body has been set up as Britain faces a growing threat from the coronavirus that has already dented tourist shopper visits from key regions such as Southeast Asia.

The new AIR retail body wants to ensure tourists find a welcome in the UK - @regentstreetw1

Among other aims, the new Association of International Retail (AIR) wants to create an action plan for the UK government that is intended to help the retail sector get back on its feet once the coronavirus threat has receded.

And AIR has some heavyweight support on board with retailers such as Harrods, Selfridges and John Lewis, luxury industry organisation Walpole, West End retailer representative body the New West End Company (NWEC) and tax-free payments processor Global Blue all taking part. Major landlords that have a big stake in central London retail and a UK tourist body are also involved and they want to target Chinese tourists in particular.

Jace Tyrrell, who is actually the head of NWEC, is leading the new association as its chairman with Paul Barnes being its CEO. “In forming AIR, we are bringing together businesses from across the international retail sector in an entirely new and innovative way,” said Tyrrell.

The new grouping comes as UK retail suffers from a tourist slowdown and given that Chinese tourists usually account for more than a quarter of all tax-free shopping in Britain, it's clear that takings at many of the top stores in London are going to be down this year.

AIR will be putting pressure on the British government to make it easier for tourists, such as the Chinese, to get visas, and will also be coordinating marketing efforts targeting these tourists.

Another key focus for the group will be trying to push a faster implementation of a digital system for VAT refunds. Unlike many countries, the UK still uses a paper-based system that means tourists can spend hours queueing to get their VAT refunded at airports, something that’s likely to suppress their willingness to come back for a second shopping trip. This compares to countries like France and Italy where the system is digital and takes no more than a few minutes. That’s hugely important given that at least 57% of tourist visits to Britain involve shopping.

While it might seem that this is just a short-term grouping given the coronavirus issues at present, its has longer term aims with the creation of a strong environment for retail after the Brexit transition period is over being one of them. It also wants to campaign for an extension to Sunday trading hours and to ensure that immigration policies after Brexit don't damage retail staffing.

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