Feb 17, 2020
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Retail should recover quickly post-coronavirus says expert, but Bicester Village suffers as tourist trips fall

Feb 17, 2020

While the coronavirus has dented tourism and affected high-end UK retail, professionals in sectors linked to the tourist industry believe that retail should be able to recover fast once the virus has been contained and that there will be plenty of pent-up demand at that point. But for now, key shopping destinations are having a tough time as tourist arrivals in the UK are dented by Chinese travel restrictions and fears over the virus. 

Bicester Village has seen lower footfall recently due to the coronavirus, according to reports - Hammerson

David Perrotta, who’s UK country manager for tax-free payments facilitator Planet told Fashionnetwork.com at an event in London that while the UK retail sector had been geared up for a Chinese New Year shopping bonanza and saw major trip cancellations instead, there’s some hope that a certain amount of ground could be made up later in the year.

“The only kind of comparison is when we look at when the SARS virus took place back in 2003. Six months after the virus, there was a 22% increase in inbound traffic that came into Europe,” he said. “The following year there was a 43% rise in inbound traffic, so it does suggest that when a pandemic is contained, people have probably saved a lot of money to come to Europe and spend”.

And if the situation eases within the next couple of months, the pick-up could be quite quick. “There is an extended [Chinese] holiday that's planned in May. It’s a five-day holiday and assuming that everything has calmed down by then, we could probably expect that there is going to be an uplift in the inbound traffic,” Perrotta added. “The other option is Golden Week that takes place in October, so we can recuperate from an economical perspective".

For now though, high-end outlet location Bicester Village is a key destination for affluent travelling shoppers that's feeling the pain and while February is generally a quiet month, it’s even quieter this year. That’s according to a report on the BBC, which said it has spoken to people working there who told it (on condition of anonymity) that “visitor numbers were much lower than usual”. Owner Value Retail had not responded to requests for a comment.

Of course, it’s no surprise that the outlet mall might be suffering in the current circumstances given its status as a tourist hub and the impact that the coronavirus has had on global tourism. While destinations like London’s West End and shopping malls such as Westfield or Bluewater have additional attractions such as cinemas and other entertainment, Bicester Village is virtually all about upscale shopping.

One fashion buyer, Xia Yae, who buys items for South Korean clients, told the BBC that “usually, fashion buyers would be restricted on how many discounted items they can buy. But now, they're allowed to buy as many as they want — the retailers clearly need to make more money.”

Research by tourist body VisitBritain ha shown that nearly three-quarters of Chinese visitors to the UK do at least some shopping during their trip and Bicester Village has become one of their target destinations in recent years. There were 415,000 visits from China to the UK in the 12 months to last September.

One retail store worker at Bicester told the BBC that the numbers of Chinese visitors entering his/her particular store are down around 85% in recent weeks, with weather incidents such as Storm Ciara also causing problems.

However, the chief executive of nearby Blenheim Palace, which has also seen lower footfall, reflected David Perrotta's view and said that the hope is that tourist visits have simply been “deferred, not deleted”. 

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