West End high street recovery “on track”
New data from a report commissioned by New West End Company (NWEC) shows the high street is on track on its road to recovery, with the West End predicted to achieve turnover of £8.6 billion within the next 12 months.
Figures for 2021 show that turnover was up nearly a third (30%) from 2020, but still represented only 46% of pre-pandemic levels.
However, the report, carried out by global property consultancy Colliers, also revealed that the famous district will recover to its historic annual turnover of £10 billion within the next two years.
Despite the positive news, most of this turnover is coming from domestic shoppers rather than any international visitors. The lack of overseas shoppers is most apparent across Regent Street, Bond Street and Mayfair - which traditionally rely on tourism – with 2021 sales reaching on average only a third (33%) of those achieved in 2019. Businesses are therefore calling on the Government to put a number of simple measures in place to encourage overseas tourists back to British high streets.
Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive of NWEC, said: “Nearly two years on from the start of the pandemic and the road ahead for the West End looks promising with the long-anticipated opening of the £19 billion Elizabeth Line set to turbo charge our recovery.
“Whilst it is heartening to see domestic customers filling our high streets with optimism once again and travel restrictions gradually disappearing, we can speed up the nation’s recovery greatly by incentivising high spending tourists to return to our shores.”
Paddy Gamble, Co-Head of Retail Strategy at Colliers, commented: “Our data has highlighted how the mix of shopper groups and origin of footfall has meant that recovery in 2021 was not equal across all parts of the West End. Areas with much greater levels of domestic trade have, and will continue, to recover quickest with UK generated sales to hit pre-pandemic levels by 2023.
“However, areas with much greater reliance on tourists and international visitors will take longer to return to the levels of footfall and sales witnessed before the COVID lockdowns. Overall, we have forecast West End performance to be back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.”
The new report, commissioned by NWEC, which represents 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners across Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Mayfair, also projects that turnover for the district will supersede pre-pandemic levels by 14% - or a further £1.4 billion - by 2025.
To further help boost recovery, NWEC is asking for an extension to Sunday trading hours, as international shoppers are often disappointed to find that stores are forced to close by 6pm on a Sunday, limiting potential spending. NWEC believes that it is crucial that retail businesses are given the opportunity to cater to weekend city break shoppers, with its own research estimating that, by removing the barrier from designated international centres such as the West End, an additional £250 million worth of sales would be generated annually at no extra cost.
Tyrrell added: “For us to succeed long-term we need to ensure that London’s West End and the wider country remains globally competitive to alternative world cities. This means exploring a simplified visa process, reintroducing tax-free shopping and extending Sunday trading hours.
“We’re in good stead to build back better, but we must clear a path if we want tourists - who generate an estimated £237 billion across the UK every year and support one in eight London jobs - to flock back to our high streets.”
In October last year, NWEC announced a collective planned £5 billion capital investment into the London’s West End over the next five years to diversify the district’s offering. The funding will not only help the district bounce back from the pandemic, but will also “help it evolve into the destination of choice for the modern customer”.
In recent months, a wide variety of businesses have also chosen to make the West End their home, including Superdry. Further arrivals are due over the next 24 months, including Gymshark on Regent Street, a new flagship Hugo Boss store adjacent to Selfridges and an Ikea store at the former Topshop flagship site on Oxford Street.