Recent surveys have shown that the UK’s top spenders on the high street are not in fact from the UK at all. Middle Eastern tourists, predominantly from the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have been splashing out on visits to London. On average, the wealthy visitors spent on average almost £800 per transaction in 2013, favouring high-end luxury brands over more affordable options.
A single visit from a Kuwaiti national brings £4,000 to the UK to the British economy and from Qatar, £3,000. Tourists from the Middle East have built up a reputation for ‘splashing the cash’ during visits, shopping in up-market locations such as Knightsbridge, host to the world famous department store Harrods, itself owned by Qatar Holdings (an investment fund acting on behalf of the Emirates royal family).
The tourists often come to the UK specifically to shop and when they do, they like to indulge in the most expensive and luxurious clothes, shoes and brands. “London is the place in Europe where the Middle Eastern visitor shops the most. It is almost their second home,” said Gordon Clark, UK manager at Global Blue, the Switzerland-based retail research firm.
Retailers have also observed what they call the ‘Ramadan Rush’, when there is an influx of wealthy Arabs flying to the UK to shop. This boom period marks the time when people from the Middle East decide to escape from the heat to London for lavish shopping trips. It has become something of a phenomenon in recent years as many brands have begun to exploit the trend, offering various VIP services during the period.
Much of the funds at the disposal of these tourists are derived from the profits of oil, which accounts for almost 90% of Kuwait’s export revenues. Accompanied by an entourage of bodyguards, chauffeurs, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces, tourists indulge their passion for retail (more than half of Middle Eastern tourists to the UK claim that shopping is their favourite activity) in the capital’s boutiques.
In turn, London enjoys this annual surge in visitors from the Middle East because they can be relied on to spend vast amounts of money. Recently, however, Global Blue found that the two top markets for tourism to the UK, namely China and the Middle East, have continued to lead spending in the UK but growth has slowed. It is safe to assume that we can count on the lead up to next Ramadan for the growth to continue for the foreseeable future.