International Visitors Key to London’s West End’s Recovery

·3 min read

London’s West End is recovering from Brexit and the pandemic, and vacancies on Regent Street, Oxford Street, Savile Row and Bond Street are being filled by brands like Uniqlo, Gymshark, Samsung, Arthur Sleep, Clothsurgeon and Vashi.

Dee Corsi, chief operating officer at New West End Company, which represents some 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners in central London’s core shopping areas anchored by Bond, Oxford and Regent Streets, said the market is under pressure, but she remains cautiously optimistic about the future of London’s retail landscape.

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“Footfall is returning. We’re seeing it’s about 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels. What we are seeing positively is that we have a much higher conversion rate in people coming into the West End,” she said.

She projects that the West End should get back to pre-pandemic turnover levels of 10 billion pounds within the next two years, and get a further 1.4 billion by 2025.

Corsi also revealed that there are around 15 properties that are under construction, or with plans approval, within the area, and there has been an influx of new brand openings and flagship stores in the West End, such as Ikea, which plans to open at the former Topshop location next year, and H&M, which is refurbishing its Regent Street flagship ahead of the holiday season.

While the Opera Gallery, part of the regenerated Elizabeth Line Bond Street development by Hanover Square, is welcoming luxury tenants including Canali, Pronovias, Seiko, Moyses Stevens, and WatchHouse, as well as the London Fashion Academy by Jimmy Choo.

Laura Citron, CEO of London & Partners, chief executive officer at London & Partners, the international trade, investment, and promotion agency for the British capital, added that the opening of Outernet London, an immersive entertainment venue by Tottenham Court Road, and the launch of Frameless, London’s first permanent digital immersive art experience, will help the West End thrive for the rest of 2022 and beyond.

But the lack of international visitors, especially those from China, is still a big concern for tenants.

Corsi pointed out that in 2019, international visitor sales generated 28.4 billion pounds for the U.K. economy, and shopping was the single biggest element of that spending. In June 2019, Chinese tourists — whilst only taking up 5 percent of non-EU visitors to the U.K. — represented a third of the international spending in the West End.

“In 2022, however, and this is where the caution comes in. Chinese spending has completely diminished in the West End,” she added.

Corsi also worries that even when they come back, they would prefer to shop in Europe instead of the U.K., as they can enjoy tax refunds and simpler visa application procedures.

In response, she said, “We are calling on the government to reconsider tax refund shopping and we think potentially with the new chancellor and new prime minister that might be something that we can really push for over the next six to 12 months.”

“We are also calling on the government to match the Schengen visa to make the electronic visa application process as straightforward as possible,” she added.

As for whether the rising cost of living in the U.K. would impact the recovery, Corsi said the West End has not seen the full impact of rising interest rates and energy prices, etc.

“I think that will come in the next six months, and that’s why we can’t be fully reliant on our domestic visitors and that’s why we really need to do everything we can to encourage our international visitors back again to the West End,” she said.

The ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine so far haven’t impacted the business in West End, she said.

“That impact will remain to be seen. We’ve got a very broad mix of stores. So overall, it hasn’t, although I’m sure for some probably has.”

 

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