West End recovery expected to continue into festive season
As many analysts and commentators question whether the retail recovery – and specifically the fashion retail recovery – can continue into the heart of the festive season, one key group thinks it can.
On Friday, the new West End company (NWEC) – which represents more than 600 businesses in the key shopping district of London's West End – forecast a spend of £1.2 billion in the area for the next seven weeks, around a third higher than a year ago.
It said that sales are already up around the third on last year in the district and isn’t expecting this to drop off, despite some analysts saying it might.
However, its forecast comes with the caveat that the figure is still less than half of 2019 levels. That's despite footfall rising to 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the last week, the highest in the area since the first lockdown.
It's perhaps no surprise that actual cash spent remains muted given that the high-spending tourists the district usually relies on haven't yet come back in large numbers, although tourism flows are increasing.
But while that £1.2 billion figure would be down 52% on what was spent in the 2019 festive season, it still represent an ongoing improvement in the performance of the West End.
Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive of NWEC 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.”
The group isn't only calling on consumers to play a part and is repeating its earlier calls for more official support. It wants the Government to address issues, some of which aren’t linked to the pandemic, in order to entice more overseas visitors.
Top of the priority list is 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”, it said. “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 — pushing the UK further down the travel wishlist of festive holidaymakers, particularly high spenders from non-EU countries”.
And it also urged the authorities to rethink Sunday trading rules saying it’s “crucial that West End businesses are given the opportunity to match the needs of shoppers on weekend city breaks. International shoppers are often disappointed to find that stores in London are forced to close by 6pm on a Sunday, limiting trading hours and potential spending”.
I fact, NWEC research estimates that “by removing this barrier from designated international centres such as the West End, an additional £250 million worth of sales would be generated annually, supporting over 2,000 FTE jobs, at no cost to the Government”, the group said.
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