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Spending by visitors to the UK up 2% in 2015

Tuesday January 26th 2016

Total international tax free spend in the UK increased by 2% year-on-year in 2015 according to retail tourism experts Global Blue.

Spending by visitors from the US saw strong growth of 20% thanks to the strength of the dollar, low oil prices, and declining unemployment leading to improved US consumer confidence.

Other nations experiencing good economic growth in 2015 were Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE. This helped to secure their positions in the top 10 spending nations for visitors to the UK with a rise in spending of 21%, 16% and 20% respectively.

Meanwhile, China’s slow economic growth, weakened manufacturing sector, depreciation of the Yuan, together with the ensuing stock market crash in December, meant spending by its tourists was up by just 1% on 2014.

Thailand and Malaysia slipped in the rankings following respective declines in spending of 3% and 17%.

Gordon Clark, head of commercial UK and Ireland, said: “Without a doubt, the huge loss in Chinese consumer confidence can be attributed to the 2015 spend figures. A weaker Yuan impacts outbound tourism as shoppers’ money has less power abroad. However, the decline for the end of the year could suggest Chinese visitors may have been holding out until the visa reform was in place to travel with more ease or, due to their current economic position, may be saving their travel until Chinese New Year in February.”

Following a year of political unrest, weakened economy and ensuing high inflation, Nigeria and Russia, which are both traditionally top spending nations, experienced a decline in spend in the UK, with respective falls of 20% and 39% year-on-year.

Despite a low average growth in spend overall for 2015, visitors were shown to still be flocking into the UK with Heathrow reporting record passenger numbers of 75 million passing through its gates.

VisitBritain has forecast a 3.8% year-on-year increase in visitors to the UK for 2016, with a corresponding increase in spending of 4.2%.

Clark added: “The recent change to the UK Visa for Chinese nationals is positive news for UK retailers. Chinese shoppers will be able to travel to the UK more frequently and with more ease assisted by the two-year multiple entry allowance, making their £742 spend per transaction even more accessible and powerful.”

Global Blue expects the strength in spending by visitors from the US and Middle East to continue.

It said: “Middle Eastern spend has well overtaken Chinese spend in the UK and USA is crawling up the table as third behind China, suggesting retailers should not focus their futures purely on Chinese potential.”