Despite a “strong recovery in footfall”, West End retailers are facing a “challenging festive period” due to the continued absence of high spending international travellers, with the New West End Company predicting just £1.2bn being spent this Christmas.
The latest figures from NWEC, which represents 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners across Bond St, Oxford St, Regent St and Mayfair, forecast sales this peak season will be up a third on last year but still less than half of 2019’s pre-pandemic levels.
It said it comes after trading rates are down 52%, despite footfall rising to 80% of pre-pandemic levels last week.
The latest footfall figure is the highest the district has experienced since the first lockdown and the NWEC said that it indicates many consumers are starting their Christmas shopping early to take advantage of the full eight week festive trading period.
Jace Tyrrell, CEO of New West End Company, said: “The long term recovery of the West End is well on its way this winter, but we can all play a part in speeding up that return by making time to shop on our high streets, grabbing a bite to eat at our hard-hit restaurants and catching a show.
“One in 10 Londoners work in the West End, and it has been heartening to see UK shoppers filling the district with optimism once again and supporting our colleagues, but that wealth of choice and world-renowned retail depends on encouraging high spending overseas tourists to return.”
Although domestic footfall is making a healthy return, New West End Company has also urged the Government for more support to help “entice” overseas shoppers, diners and holidaymakers back to British shores.
It said top of the priority list is calling for the “simplification” of the UK’s visitor visa system, which has fallen behind that offered by competing destinations such as Paris and Milan that are in the Schengen Area. Since the UK government’s abolition of tax-free shopping earlier this year, such locations have benefited from a 20% price advantage over the UK – a situation the West End “desperately wants re-examined”.
As well as changes to visas and taxes, NWEC said it is “crucial” that West End businesses are given the opportunity to match the needs of shoppers on weekend city breaks by extending the current 6pm curfew on Sundays.
It said its research estimates that by removing this barrier from designated international centres such as the West End, an additional £250m worth of sales would be generated annually, supporting over 2,000 FTE jobs, at no cost to the Government.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I want this year’s Christmas shopping period to provide a much-needed boost to London’s retail and leisure industries after the 2020 festive trading period was cut short due to lockdown.
“We know that international tourists contribute a huge amount to the West End and sadly it could take some time for international tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels. That’s why I launched Lets do London, the biggest domestic tourism campaign the capital has ever seen, to encourage people in the UK to take a break in London and to experience the whole world right here in our city.”
He added: “The West End at Christmas is a fabulous experience, with world-class shopping, bars and restaurants as well as the dazzling festive lights and displays. So I encourage Londoners and visitors from around the country to come and enjoy everything London has to offer as you get ready for Christmas.”