Whatever you think about Brexit, Britain’s decision to leave the EU has presented the UK economy with a major opportunity – international tourism.
The Chancellor’s announcement in the Autumn Statement that the government plans to digitalise the tax-free shopping system is a great boost to this.
The impact on the pound, which has fallen considerably since the UK decided to leave the European Union, has made Britain a much more attractive destination for international tourists who are already spending more in our shops, restaurants and hotels.
The government has recognised there is huge potential to spread this increased spending across the whole of the UK in the years to come.
The tourist industry is already hugely important for Britain, accounting for around 9% of the whole of the UK’s GDP, with a value of £126.9bn, £24.2bn of which is generated by inbound tourism.
Shopping is one of Britain’s great attractions to international tourists – we have some of the best shopping destinations in the world, including London’s West End and Knightsbridge, as well as brilliant shopping centres throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Making Britain a competitive tourist destination
Most of the world’s top tourist destinations offer tax-free shopping, and their numbers are increasing every year.
To remain competitive with tourist destinations in Europe and throughout the world, the UK has to have a strong and effective tax-free shopping system, something which will be complete by the introduction of a digital system.
“In the four months since Brexit, our figures have recorded a significant year-on-year increase in international tax-free spend, rising 7% in July, 37% in August, 18% in September and an impressive 41% in October”
In the four months since Brexit, our figures have recorded a significant year-on-year increase in international tax-free spend, rising 7% in July, 37% in August, 18% in September and an impressive 41% in October.
The number of inbound visits in 2015 grew 5% to a record 36.1 million, and we expect figures this year will be even greater following the Brexit vote.
This is why Global Blue is fully backing the government’s decision to revolutionise the tax-free shopping system by introducing our Tax Free Shopping Revolution Manifesto, which has one core aim: to make Britain’s tax-free shopping the best in the world.
The manifesto has eight points:
- More shops offering tax-free shopping
- More use of tax-free shopping as an attraction when marketing Britain abroad and at home
- A more efficient, secure digital tax-free shopping system
- The best customer experience in UK shops for international tourists
- A better customer experience when leaving the UK
- Fewer opportunities for fraud
- Clear and simple co-ordination with Europe following the break from the EU
- Constant improvements to keep up with international competitors
The government’s commitment to introduce a modern digital system will make a significant difference to customer experience.
Currently, tourists visiting the UK have to use a paper-based system to claim back their tax, which is time-consuming and has potential for fraud – both of which devalue the UK’s tax-free shopping offering.
Why we need to give tax back to tourists
Some people might ask why we give tourists their tax back. It’s because by attracting them to Britain to shop, they spend far more on other things while they are here.
By making Britain’s tax-free shopping system the best in the world, our shops, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions will see substantial additional spending by foreign visitors – just what Britain’s economy needs.
“The government will benefit by taxing goods and services not exported, in addition to the extra taxes collected from growing businesses and increased employment”
The government will benefit by taxing goods and services not exported, in addition to the extra taxes collected from growing businesses and increased employment.
All of this extra income from overseas far outweighs any tax repaid.
Over the coming months, we will be discussing our manifesto with government, retailers and airports to agree practical ways of improving every part of the customer experience so tourists are encouraged to spend more and return to the UK again and again.
Working together, we can revolutionise tax-free shopping in the UK and create a system which is ultimately good for consumers, good for retailers and good for the British economy.
- Gordon Clark is managing director for the UK and Ireland at Global Blue