US vacationers drive rebound in overseas guests to London’s high points of interest


International vacationers are flocking to London’s high points of interest in higher numbers than anticipated because the nation emerges from the pandemic, pushed by an inflow of US guests making the most of relaxed Covid-19 testing necessities and a robust greenback.

However, tourism our bodies worry that the gradual rebound of the Asian market — significantly high-spending Chinese vacationers doubtlessly deterred by the tip of duty-free looking for non-EU guests — will crimp the restoration.

The Tower of London welcomed greater than 70,000 guests within the week ending July 3, edging above the equal week in 2019 for the primary time for the reason that onset of the pandemic. In June, US guests accounted for 45 per cent of ticket gross sales to the 944-year-old fortress, up from 27 per cent earlier than the pandemic.

Over the identical interval, customer numbers on the Royal Museums Greenwich websites, which embrace the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark clipper, and Westminster Abbey ran at 83 per cent and just under 70 per cent of 2019 ranges respectively. Both points of interest depend on worldwide guests for almost all of their ticket gross sales, that are rebounding far faster than anticipated, in response to their operators.

Paul Baumann, receiver common at Westminster Abbey, mentioned the Queen’s platinum jubilee in early June had “created a buzz” across the church, wherein 39 coronations have taken place since 1066, offering a “priceless advertisement” for guests from world wide.

Tourists visiting Westminster Abbey on Friday © Anna Gordon/FT

“If they’re going to go somewhere for their first trip after the pandemic, it strikes me that the place most Americans reach for first is the UK,” mentioned Baumann. He added that the UK had “shaken off” the unhealthy publicity it obtained early on within the pandemic when it was derided as “plague island”.

“Europeans . . . were first to return, and now we’re seeing Americans returning to London in significant numbers, and that’s particularly important because they prioritise going to visitor attractions and are big spenders,” mentioned Bernard Donoghue, chief govt of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, including that sterling falling by 13 per cent in opposition to the greenback for the reason that begin of the yr had been a boon to tourism from the US.

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In June, the US authorities additionally ended the Covid-19 testing requirement for inbound travellers, easing overseas journey for US residents.

“London’s appeal remains undimmed,” mentioned Dan Wolfe, business director of Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that runs six UK palaces, together with the Tower of London. “Despite events of the last few years, London’s culture and history will always be a draw for international visitors.”

The optimistic trajectory has triggered optimism amongst operators that earlier projections that worldwide customer numbers and spending wouldn’t return to pre-pandemic ranges till 2025 may show excessively gloomy.

In April this yr, visits by inbound vacationers had been 33 per cent down on the three.2mn recorded in the identical month in 2019, however spending was simply 9 per cent beneath 2019 ranges, in response to the Office for National Statistics.

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But Joss Croft, chief govt of the commerce physique UKIncertain, mentioned the present surge in visits and spending might show to be “a temporary spike”.

“Even though [tourism from the] US is going very well, there is a concern that a lot of visitors are travelling using travel vouchers issued in 2020 and 2021, and they are burning through their pandemic savings pot, so there are still concerns about what’s going to happen further down the road,” mentioned Croft.

The finish of duty-free looking for non-EU guests after the UK left the bloc final yr might make London a much less fascinating buying vacation spot for rich people, significantly from the high-spending Chinese market.

In 2019, Chinese vacationers accounted for simply 4 per cent of non-EU guests to the UK, however had been liable for 26 per cent of spending on tax-free buying, in response to Swiss funds firm Global Blue.

Now, they will now not reclaim the 20 per cent worth added tax paid on purchases; the concern is that they, and different eager consumers, will “abandon” London in favour of different European capitals, mentioned Paul Barnes, chief govt of the Association of International Retail.

Tourists in London
Tourists are returning to London however concern stays in regards to the gradual rebound of the Asian market © Anna Gordon/FT

“Why would the biggest spenders from the US or China choose London to buy designer clothes when they can get the same item 20 per cent cheaper in Paris, Milan or Madrid?,” requested Barnes.

He additionally added that the UK visa system was “not as good a product” because the 26-nation Schengen visa, due to bureaucratic delays and the EU scheme permitting a number of re-entry as a part of its visa waiver programme. The UK’s new visa-free Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme gained’t be applied in full till 2024.

Furthermore, China’s continued zero-Covid coverage, which incorporates official edicts in opposition to all “unnecessary travel”, has resulted in a close to whole collapse in Chinese worldwide tourism.

Baumann mentioned the gradual restoration of tourism demand from Asia was “the main thing holding back” tickets gross sales at Westminster Abbey from the pre-pandemic peak, together with “a bit of weakness” in demand from continental Europe. In May, Asian guests made up simply 3 per cent of whole ticket gross sales, in contrast with 23 per cent in the identical month in 2019.

Asian vacationers sometimes make up a fifth of the £14mn turnover of the 4 websites managed by Royal Museums Greenwich. At the Royal Observatory present store, the common spend from a Chinese bank card was £200 earlier than the pandemic.

“That’s a big loss to stomach,” mentioned Paddy Rodgers, director on the Royal Museums Greenwich. “We have no visibility on when travel from Asia will recover. For the time being, Americans flooding back to London and the strong dollar has been our saving grace.”