With Brexit approaching, the UK retail industry had actually been lobbying hard over the last year for EU travellers to also become eligible for Tax Free shopping, therefore benefitting from the same advantages that International Travellers have enjoyed for many years.
Tax Free shopping acts a very clear incentive for travellers to shop whilst in the UK (receiving normally 10-15% of their purchase value back as a refund), and for many travellers this is one of the main reasons that they come to the UK in the first place. Certainly at the higher end of the spending spectrum this Tax Free incentive is a major driver of tourist expenditure. Currently tax free shopping generates some £3.5 billion of sales revenue.
Now, some genius has decided that this benefit is too 'London Centric' and should be scrapped altogether. So, at a time when the UK is trying to stand on its own two feet and compete on the global stage, we are instead disincentivizing tourists from coming here.
Clearly the whole retail industry, especially those based in the West End, are up in arms. Rightly so as we battle to survive in a city devoid of customers and life post lockdown.
Yet again, the UK is sending a message that it is not so 'Open for Business'. More importantly it seems to be that this government's focus for all future investment and growth is away from the Retail sector, seemingly forgetting how many millions of people are currently employed within it.
Yes, change is upon us, retail is evolving and being replaced in parts, but at least easing into this evolution rather than simply accelerating towards it at an even greater speed, would give time to adjust, redeploy and retrain.
Now, more than ever, we need to be opening our arms to the world - so far we seem to be better at turning our backs.