Spending in London’s key West End shopping district is expected to rise “significantly” this year, despite domestic shoppers remaining cautious. The big difference will be the return of international visitors who are back in large numbers, despite the ongoing issues connected to the end of tax-free shopping for them.

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The New West End Company (NWEC) forecasts up to £1.64 billion is set to be spent in the West End over the Christmas trading period but it has also repeated its call for the government to restore tax-free shopping given the potential massive boost it could deliver.

And of course, that £1.64 billion is in addition to all the spending that will happen in other major shopping areas, such as Knightsbridge and Covent Garden, and at major London malls such as the two Westfields.

NWEC represents 600 retailers, restaurants, hotels and property owners across the West End, including Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street and Mayfair. it said the increase in the area’s spending will come after £1.55 billion was spent in November and December last year. 

As mentioned, despite the top-line growth, the continued impact of the cost-of-living crisis and high inflation will see Britons themselves taking a cautious approach to Christmas once again, “with the pattern of domestic spending largely in line with 2022”. 

That means West End retailers “can expect to see their first spike in domestic spend on Black Friday, when savvy shoppers seek out the plethora of deals and discounts available across the district”. 

And NWEC expects domestic spending to reach its crescendo on 23 December. Falling on a Saturday, it’s “an attractive date for families looking to make the most of the final weekend before Christmas”.

Of course, plenty of events are being planned for the area to add extra appeal for those looking to shop in person rather than online. For instance, for the first time, there will be a festive ice rink within Hanover Square that sits between Oxford Street and Bond Street.

NWEC also said Boxing Day (26 December) in the West End is set to be the first day on which international spend is greater than domestic. “This suggests that the festive shopping period is elongated for international visitors, as they look to experience all that the West End has to offer beyond Christmas Day – a positive for businesses looking to maximise sales during what is a critical trading period”.

NWEC CEO Dee Corsi said: “For many, time spent in the West End is what the festive season is all about. More than just shopping, the district offers the opportunity to make memories and create your own, unique festive experiences with family, friends and loved ones. And it is this reputation that has enabled the West End to remain resilient, despite the ongoing cost-of-living crisis which is squeezing domestic spending and dampening consumer confidence elsewhere in the UK. 

“However, we cannot afford to ignore that it is international visitors driving our recovery this winter. To this end, we are calling on the Government to conduct an independent evaluation of the impact of tax-free shopping. Christmas is a critical trading period for businesses both in the West End and across the UK, and the reinstatement of tax-free shopping is a simple measure that would put us back on an equal footing with other festive destinations in Continental Europe.”

In fact, rather than simply putting Britain on an equal footing, it could give it a huge advantage if EU visitors are able to access VAT refunds, making it the only major shopping destination in Europe offering them tax-free shopping.

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