A global city needs a global advantage

As Christmas shopping kicks into gear across the capital, retailers and leisure operators alike will be hoping for a booming festive season to offset the losses endured over the past 20 months.

However, to have any hope of strong returns this winter, they will have to rely on patronage from the British public, as overseas visitors continue to stay away. While the pandemic lingers on, travel restrictions are not the only reason for this dip in spend from abroad.

What London needs to be a global leader

Historically, we’ve competed with European cities such as Paris and Milan in enticing holidaymakers to our streets. However, as it stands, I’m sad to say that London is no longer the most appealing destination for those shoppers looking to board a plane and enjoy some well-deserved retail therapy.

The Schengen visa, which applies to our European rivals, grants multiple entry to its holders over a six-month period and can be obtained with relative ease and efficiency. The UK equivalent only allows one visit in the same six-month period, and is only granted at least 48 hours before departure, removing the possibility of a last-minute trip for any would-be shopper trying to accommodate a busy schedule.

Given that these European cities already have a 20 per cent price advantage over the UK, following the abolition of tax-free shopping earlier this year, surely we can agree that we should be doing everything in our power to level the playing field?

Restoring the capital to its number-one ranking

New West End Company

The government has set out a Tourism Recovery Plan that has proclaimed that numbers and spending among international visitors will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023. This equates to £28.4bn, of which 25 per cent is generated by shopping. If we are serious about returning to these levels of success – and we certainly should be if we want the economy to recover – then we should be giving our high streets the best possible environment to prosper.

At the moment, London’s famous streets – those that have so often been the first to house iconic brands, groundbreaking restaurants and renowned cultural experiences – are at a severe disadvantage. If we want the capital to return to its rightful place at the top of the list of global shopping destinations, then simplifying the UK’s visa process – a straightforward and cost-free action – is a requirement, rather than simply a hope.