The first indications that Russians are being affected by the falling rouble – and more recent political issues in Ukraine/Crimea – are starting to appear in shopping statistics.
Data from tax free refund specialist Global Blue shows that in February, spending by Russians collapsed by -17% compared to the same month in 2013. This was the worst performance among the 10 best shopper nations, with Thais – another emerging market nation touted as one to watch in DF&TR – sliding by a hefty -16%.
The -17% Russian fall (see graph) comes on the back of a -1% fall in January which Global Blue revealed to TRBusiness earlier this month [for a special report on high-spending travellers in the April edition, out shortly]. At that time the company was cautious about interpreting the fall. A spokesperson said: “Looking at one month only, instead of a longer period like a quarter, can sometimes be a little tricky. There could be a timing effect, meaning the refund is not registered until the money is paid.”
However the February data, point to a more damaging change in Russian spending patterns which could widen both geographically, and over time, depending on how the situation in Ukraine/Crimea plays out.
MIXED MIDDLE EAST FORTUNES
On a more positive note for the UK retailers and the tax free industry, February saw strong spending growth from both Qatar and Kuwait, up +88% and +81% respectively, pushing them into second and third place behind China.
However, tax free sales to United Arab Emirates residents were down -7% while sales to Saudi Arabians only grew by +8%. Middle Eastern travellers overall remains a strong market for the UK.
The Chinese, with a large 28% share of the UK tax free market continued to grow their overall spend which was up +23% in February, and generating an average spend of £652 ($1,076). See the table below for full growth and spend per head rates.