Will Chinese tourist boom create an Indian summer for UK food and drink sector?

An influx of Chinese tourists to the UK is not only bolstering retail and foodservice spend and but it is also supporting a boom in the retail offerings at transport hubs such as airports and train stations, according to figures released today (September 7) by commercial estate agent Colliers International.

Responding to new data from researcher Global Blue, which reveal that the Chinese year-on-year overseas retail spend has increased by more than 8% across Europe, Paul Souber, head of retail agency London and co-head of EMEA Retail at Colliers, said: “Chinese tourists are already the biggest spending nationality when on their travels and collectively spent $261bn whilst abroad in 2016.

Visa restrictions on Chinese nationals visiting the UK have historically kept tourism levels relatively low, however these policies have been relaxed and there is now an increasingly strong demand for outbound travel. In addition, there is an expanding network of international direct flights from China, which is helping to boost overseas retail spend.

“We’ve noticed that retailers have seized the overseas spending opportunity by seeking advice about taking space at transport hubs. It’s fascinating to see how the retail offer at airports and stations is broadening. Not that long ago, if you were heading off on holiday and were at an airport, port or train station with time to kill and money in your pocket, the options were fairly limited. There’d be a newsagent, tourist gift shop, some – often uninspiring – cafés and duty free if you were about to board a plane or ship. Tapping into that ‘shopping and eating on the move’ trend is becoming increasingly vital.

“With a population-in-motion of more than one billion people, some commentators are now referring to the travel sector as the world’s ‘sixth continent’. It certainly is a burgeoning specialist retail property sector that must be factored into the plans of any brand that is looking to establish an international profile.

“With UK-EU changes in March 2019, duty free is only going to make the retail offering in travel hubs an even bigger business when it returns. Not only will there be an influx of jobs and retail transactions but we will also see more retailers looking to take extra sites or larger units.

“There is close to 500,000 sq ft of retail space across the Heathrow terminals which makes the airport a shopping centre in its own right. St Pancras station which is both a commuter hub and the Eurostar terminal has a tremendous retail and food and drink offer.

“There are hardly any of the original shops that were in the Eurostar terminal when it opened a decade ago. That is because the offer has been enhanced to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding and affluent shopper base.

“Shopper dwell time – at airports in particular – is now considerable due to the demands of security, so there are increasing opportunities for retailers to exploit the flow of passengers.”

“With the Chinese expected to spend more than £1bn in the UK by the end of this year (with around half that four years ago), its apparent that this is only the beginning and not the end of the summer holidays for retail.”


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