18 January 2015
Last updated at 15:02
Global Blue says Christmas is an increasingly popular time for non-EU visitors to do their tax-free shopping as they enjoy the festive look of the streets
The UK’s hotels and shops saw spending by Russians fall 28% last year largely thanks to the plunge in the rouble.
The findings, from tax-free experts Global Blue, are another illustration of the extent to which the fall in the rouble is curtailing rich Russians’ ability to travel and spend.
A 50% fall in the value of the Russian currency means foreign spending is twice as expensive for them.
Some of the shortfall was made up by Hong Kong shoppers, who spent 9% more.
Russians had been among the top five biggest-spending non-EU tourists in the UK, but have now fallen out of the top ten.
Global Blue, which introduced the concept of tax-free shopping 30 years ago, processes 80% of all such spending in the UK.
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Unlike domestic, globe shoppers are not simply drawn by the heavy discounts but also… at a time when the streets are festively decorated to look their best”
Non-EU residents can shop and claim back the VAT – worth 20% – on spending above £30 at shops and hotels, basically by filling in a form.
Overall spending was down 3% from 2013 to 2014, although December spending helped make up some ground as it rose 11% to reach a record.
Christmas was becoming an increasingly popular time for non-EU visitors, said Gordon Clark, UK country manager of Global Blue: “2014 was a turning point for how Christmas is a key period for international spend, a trend which we expect to continue.
“Unlike domestic, globe shoppers are not simply drawn by the heavy discounts but also… at a time when the streets are festively decorated to look their best.”
With revenue from Chinese tourists up 20% in December, Global Blue says services and the ability to avoid Chinese luxury taxes are another two reasons the UK is attractive to theose shoppers.
It said Middle Eastern nations’ spending overall also rose strongly, with December spending by Qatari and Kuwaiti visitors up by 33% and 24%.
Qatari shoppers in fact spend the most per transaction – £1,406 – compared with the average of £633 per transaction.
This year, VisitBritain, which promotes tourism in the UK, is predicting a recovery of 4.5% in spending to £22.2bn.
It says the recent strengthening of the pound is expected to restrain growth, but easier access to the UK for affluent visitors from China should help to retain international spenders.