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London retailers rejoice as Brexit lifts tourist spend

Several retailers in the West End of London are enjoying an ongoing uptick in tourist spend thanks to the weaker pound.

Bond Street development plan

Sterling plummeted to a 31-year low against the dollar in the days following the UK vote to leave the European Union, and was sitting at €1.18 and $1.32 today (August 2). As a result, tourist spend in some areas have spiked to levels normally only seen around Christmas, retailers and brands have reported.

“The figures are in line with December trading, which is unprecedented for this time of year,” confirmed Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, which represents retailers on London’s Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street and 22 surrounding streets.

“The highest number of visitors are coming from Australia, China and the Middle East, largely due to the post-referendum weak pound. Some retailers are reporting over a 30% uplift in sales compared to the same period last year, with the highest spend on luxury goods, accessories and fashion.”

Jane Hartley, commercial director at women’s footwear brand Penelope Chilvers, which has stores on Duke Street and Ledbury Road, said sales were up 56% year on year in July.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in tourist footfall in both the London stores over the last month, as well as an increased international spend online,” she said. “Unlike this time last year, our overseas visitors are here to shop rather than to browse and even though we’re currently on markdown, full-price new collection conversion is strong.”

James Eden, founder and chief executive of British firm Private White VC, based on Duke Street, agreed: “We have seen a significant uplift in both tourist numbers and the amount overseas customers are spending per transaction due to the collapse of the pound. The same can been seen online with a significant uplift in traffic, enquiries and ultimately sales, post-Brexit.”

Mark Henderson, chairman of men’s tailoring business Gieves & Hawkes and chairman of London Luxury Quarter agreed that Mayfair, Piccadilly, St James and Bond Street would be “more attractive” because of the exchange rates.

Fenella Barber, director for creative and consumer at the China-Britain Business Council, said: “There is chatter online in China that there are bargains to be had in the UK at the moment and they love a good bargain. It takes time to sort a visa, but if people were weighing up if they should come to the UK, this would swing it.”

However, department store bosses were more cautious. Harrods managing director Michael Ward said: “I think it is too early to tell given the short timing [since the Brexit vote]. We will have a better read by September.”

House of Fraser chief executive Nigel Oddy agreed: “It’s still tough out there, so it’s difficult to tell at the moment. Cities like London, Edinburgh and Bath have been doing a bit better over the last few weeks, but it’s a marginal improvement on last year. I think there is still a huge worry over terrorism following the attacks in Paris and Brussels, so there may be some reluctance for tourists to visit.”

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