Visits to Oxford Street – Britain’s Busiest High Street – Plunges by Nearly a Fifth as Plight Fuels Calls to Ditch Tourist Tax

Visits to Britain’s busiest high street have plunged over the past year while European rivals enjoy a boom, according to the latest data that will bolster calls to scrap a hated tourist tax. The 18 per cent decline in footfall in London’s Oxford Street compares with a 30 per cent increase for Amsterdam’s Kalverstraat and a 26 per cent rise for Madrid’s Gran Via. 

It comes as even retailers in Norway’s capital Oslo say they are taking advantage of the tax to lure shoppers away from London. And the boss of upmarket department store Harvey Nichols reiterated calls to Rishi Sunak to act urgently over the issue, saying Britain’s retailers must not be allowed to ‘lose another summer’. 

The source is spearheading a campaign to reintroduce VAT-free shopping for tourists, which was scrapped in 2021 when the UK left the EU. That decision means that, unlike in many other countries, overseas visitors can no longer claim back the 20 per cent VAT levied on their purchases. 

Evidence is mounting that the tourist tax is helping cities such as Paris and Milan lure consumers who might previously have favoured London. That means that all sorts of businesses including hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions – and not just the shops themselves – are missing out. 

New figures from property agents Cushman & Wakefield, comparing the performance of Europe’s top seven shopping streets over the 12 months to June, showed London falling behind. Amsterdam and Madrid led the pack while the Champs Elysees in Paris saw a 15 per cent rise in footfall and Milan’s Corso Vittorio Emanuele II was up 6 per cent, followed by Le Meir in Antwerp, up 2 per cent. 

Berlin’s Kurfurstendamm saw a 12 per cent decline and was the only of the seven apart from London to experience a fall. It is not just the traditional fashion hubs such as Milan and Paris that are taking advantage of the UK capital’s woes. 

Businesses in the Nedre Slottsgate area of Oslo – the Norwegian capital’s equivalent of Bond Street – also want to take advantage.  David Wilkinson, the former Harrods and Selfridges manager who now runs the city’s historic Steen & Strøm department store, told sources: ‘We are very happy to eat London’s lunch.’ 

Mr Wilkinson said Norway had enjoyed a tourist boom in recent years, partly thanks to ‘tax-free shopping, a cheap krone and the increasing number of luxury boutiques that now call Oslo home’. He said Nedre Slottsgate ‘now has one of the densest concentrations of luxury stores in Europe.

‘And it is not just wealthy Norwegians splashing the cash but also Chinese, Arab and other shoppers, with international tourism outstripping domestic tourism for the first time this year,’ he added. 

While high-end brands such as Dior and Chanel have been moving into Oslo, London seems to have gone in the other direction, with luxury retailer Mulberry shutting its flagship store in the capital and tacky candy shops moving into once-prime Oxford Street locations. And although the West End and Knightsbridge have seen footfall tick back to pre-pandemic levels, businesses argue London is missing out on the full receipts of a post-Covid boom. 

Steven Medway, chief executive of the Knightsbridge and King’s Road Partnerships, said: ‘When we think of our luxury shopping rivals, we look to the continent and think of Paris and Milan. We’ve clearly missed the stealthy march that Oslo is making upon Knightsbridge. Like Rome and Madrid, it does seem that such markets are making moves to benefit from tax-free shopping, which the UK sorely lacks.’

The Government must withdraw the tourist tax to put London back on top.’ Manju Malhotra, chief executive of Harvey Nichols – who has previously given her backing to the Mail’s campaign – reiterated her plea yesterday. 

She told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘I would urge the Government to really prioritise it before an election. ‘We all benefit from international businesses coming to the UK. The high street, restaurants, and museums, all rely on visitors coming to the UK. 

‘We don’t want to lose another summer.’ 

It comes after the Mail revealed last week that the issue would be debated in the Commons later this year in the latest sign that Chancellor – who has so far resisted appeals to rethink the policy – is finally listening to businesses. 

Shevaun Haviland, head of the British Chambers of Commerce, last week told sources that – having lobbied government officials for a change of heart – she now believes ‘the door is ajar’. 


Daily Mail
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