The Chinese Spring Festival, with New Year as its centrepiece, has long been a key date in the West End calendar.
The annual event is yet another example of how London’s shopping district remains a hotspot for international visitors in search of some retail therapy.
With retail sales to Chinese visitors going from strength to strength in the last few months, businesses are gearing up to kick-start 2017 with a very big weekend.
The scene is set as figures show sales to Chinese shoppers were up 121% on 2016 in the week prior to the main event this weekend. This suggests many are choosing the capital as their go-to holiday destination.
To put this into perspective, domestic and European spend in the same time period were up by just 10.2% and 12.6% respectively. This surge in activity prior to the event itself bodes well for retailers hoping to capitalise on the festivities.
Traditionally, holidays like Chinese New Year and Golden Week were used for family reunions and time at home. However, more and more Chinese citizens are opting to capitalise on breaks as an opportunity for foreign travel.
2016 was particularly prosperous in terms of retail sales in general, especially since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in late June. Brexit in particular had a visible effect on the amount Chinese tourists decided to spend in the West End.
Last August, for example, Chinese spend was up 65% on 2015 across the West End, alongside an impressive average spend of £1,453 per person. This was hot on the heels of a similarly impressive 21% uplift for July.
These figures clearly speak for themselves as testament to the importance of international visitors to the success of the West End.
As part of the UK China Visa Alliance, we played a key role in extending the visa term for Chinese visitors from six months to two years.
This government recognition of the value tourism can add to the UK economy should be replicated in a reduction of the costs of visas for Chinese retail tourists.
With easier and flexible access, Chinese tourists will continue to spend in the shops and visit attractions, despite tougher economics at home.
Lowering the cost of a visa would annually encourage more than another 250,000 tourists who are keen to spend in the West End on top of those who flock to the area each year.
This would represent a boost to the economy of around £337m in revenue, not to mention that it would cut the cost of processing requests for the UK by £20m.
As a global shopping district and tourist destination, we relish the diversity of visitors that the area attracts.
With Crossrail coming into play at the end of next year, we only expect to see tourism grow in the area – especially now the link between Heathrow Airport and Bond Street is just 30 minutes’ travel time.
But for now, the West End will be settling in for round two of New Year 2017.
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive, New West End Company