Tourism to London bounces back… ‘but we still need VAT-free shopping’

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Tourism to London is bouncing back after the pandemic with 16 million overnight visits to the capital from people from overseas last year, official figures revealed on Friday.

But the tally was much lower than the 21.7 million in 2019 and prompted more calls for the “tourist tax” to be abolished.

The latest figures showed 9.6 million out of the 16.1 million overnight visits from tourists were from other European countries, 3.5 million from North America, and just under three million from other parts of the world.

Ros Morgan, chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, said: “Tourism in the West End is showing clear signs of recovery, with footfall up by almost 12 per cent over the last year, and international visitor numbers up by 26 per cent since 2021/22”.

But she added: “Barriers such as additional visas and the removal of tax-free shopping need addressing.”

Dee Corsi, chief executive at the New West End Company, stressed: “Post pandemic, pent-up demand has seen visitor numbers and spend recover faster in some European cities, particularly driven by US visitors, but the UK’s growth is lagging behind.”

She blamed this on the “removal of tax-free shopping, which puts us at a 20 per cent price disadvantage when compared to our European neighbours”.

Adam Tyndall, from BusinessLDN, said the figures show an “undiminished appetite for international travel” after the pandemic but he also called for “restoring VAT-free shopping”.

Highlighting the “Let’s Do London” tourism campaign, Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “With so much going on in the capital this summer, I look forward to London being abuzz with tourists once again.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It’s clear that foreign travel has yet to pick up to pre-pandemic levels as quickly as we’d hoped… however, there are encouraging signs that foreign travel is on the way back.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is understood to be ready to ditch the “tourism tax” if it can be shown to be tax neutral or better for the Treasury.