UK stayed key shopping destination in Q1 says ONS

UK stores continued to reap the benefits of the weak pound in the first quarter of this year, new figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown.

Chinese visitors came to the UK to shop as the exchange rate stayed favourable

The UK continues to be a key stopping point for Chinese tourists as the exchange rate means they can buy more in Britain for their money than in many other major European destinations.

While UK visits by foreign nationals tend to be split between shopping trips, heritage visits and the chance to take in the country’s natural attractions, it’s clear that shopping is taking on greater importance in the current environment. The sharp rise in visitors outside of the peak tourists season, when the weather was cold and dull, means shopping is likely to have been the key lure for many in-bound tourists.

In January to March, the ONS said the number of holidaymakers coming to the UK rose 21.1%. However, significantly, and possibly linked to the fact that Brexit is looming, the number of business travellers to the UK fell. That meant overall visits rose almost 10%, a still hefty increase, with a record total of 8.3m visits.

Those visitors also spent a record £4.4bn while in the UK with their spend split between shopping, hotels, dining, travel and more.

While there was a record number of Chinese visitors (54,000) resulting in a record £91 million spend, a number of other countries also increased their visits to Britain.

American visitor numbers rose 16% and their spending was up by an even larger 29% to £604 million, suggesting that the favourable exchange rate means foreign visitors are setting aside extra cash to get bargains in Britain.

The ONS also said that Australian and French visitor numbers rose strongly.

However, despite the increased spend in UK stores, Britain still has a tourist spending deficit with UK residents making 14.1 million trips abroad during the same period (up over 8% year-on-year) and spending £11.7 billion on those trips, a rise of almost 12%.

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