By Alicia Buller
Following a three-month lockdown, the UK capital is gradually reopening its attractions, hotels and retail hotspots
A top London official has said the city is “delighted” to welcome back Middle Eastern visitors, following a three-month lockdown which saw the shuttering of most of the city’s attractions.
“The Middle East is a significant tourism market for London,” said Allen Simpson, director of strategy and corporate affairs at London & Partners, the city’s promotion and investment body governed by the mayor’s office.
“We are delighted to see London gradually reopening to travellers and locals alike,” said the official.
Several of London’s most popular hotels for Arab visitors, such as The Corinthia London, The Ned and Bulgari Hotel London, are already open for visitors with more set to open soon, such as the Landmark London on 15 August and The Goring on 4 September.
In a landmark reopening, Buckingham Palace threw open its doors on July 23.
Many of London's historic royal palaces, art galleries and museums will be reopening in the next fortnight, such as the Tate Modern on 27 July and the V&A on 6 August.
“There are plenty of opportunities for Middle Eastern visitors to discover the city’s luxury retail destinations, with Selfridges, Harrods and the ICON Outlet at the O2 all open for shoppers,” said Simpson.
However, the official noted that the GCC region is not currently included in the UK government’s quarantine exemption list, so visitors arriving from the Middle East must ensure they follow all official guidelines from the UK government during their stay.
“This includes self-isolation for 14 days at a specified quarantine address, that should be provided to authorities upon arrival in the UK. More information can be found at www.gov.uk,” said Simpson.
“The safety of our visitors and Londoner is the number one priority for all of us in the tourism and hospitality sector, but we are also working hard to make sure London remains the fun, friendly and culturally vibrant city it always has been,” he added.
Foreign visitors, which have traditionally been a critical bolster for central London’s economy, have been almost completely absent in recent months.
The government’s quarantine requirements, as well as travel restrictions in many of London’s source markets, mean that tourist arrivals over the summer will be only a slither of last year’s six million.
Flights booked to the UK through travel agents are down 96 percent year-on-year in July 2019 - recovering only slightly in August to just 88 percent lower than last year, said the latest data from flights analysts ForwardKeys.
Tourism body VisitBritain predicts that foreign visits to the UK will be down 59 percent to 16.8 million this year with spending 63 percent lower at £10.6 billion.
Traditionally dependent on the arrival of wealthy shoppers hailing from the Middle East and Asia, London’s retail industry has taken a heavy blow.
Just last year, the Middle East was the UK's second most valuable market, with GCC citizens accounting for more than a quarter of the total tax-free shopping spend in Britain, said a report from tax-free payments facilitator Global Blue.
By country, the UAE and Kuwait each held 7% of the total share, and Saudi Arabia 6%, the 2019 report said.
The firm’s data also showed that among the transactions, 38 percent of visitors bought from British brands such as Burberry and Mulberry and from department stores such as Harrods and Selfridges.
However, Harrods boss Michael Ward told London’s ‘Evening Standard’ newspaper on Monday there will be “no V-shaped recovery” for the UK as tourists stay away from London amid COVID-19 fears.
The prestigious shopping landmark relies heavily on wealthy international tourists as only 30 percent of sales come from local Londoners and European visitors, Ward said.
Pre-coronavirus, Harrods welcomed 80,000 visitors daily, but today that figure has slumped to 4,000. Harrods is forecasting a fall in revenue of 45% for this year and a 35% fall in 2021.
Emirates resumed London Heathrow–Dubai passenger flights on board its Airbus A380 aircraft on July 15, marking the first double-decker flight to the UK capital since the pandemic forced the temporary grounding of the airline’s passenger fleet in March.
The return of the A380 follows the resumption of Emirates’ B777 flights to and from London Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow in the UK.
From the UK, Emirates customers can now fly to 24 destinations in the Asia Pacific, and eight cities in the Middle East and Africa via Dubai airport, which reopened to international visitors on 7 July.
A second daily A380 service from Dubai to London Heathrow will start from 1 August.
Emirates has implemented measures to ensure the safety of its customers and employees on the ground and in the air, including the distribution of complimentary hygiene kits containing masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes to all customers.