More than half of Brits would welcome duty free sales on arrival, shows poll

By Luke Barras-hill |

Brexit delivered the return of duty free sales to EU-bound passengers, but the airside tax free concession at UK airports and VAT Retail Export Scheme ended.

Polling* commissioned by the UK Travel Retail Forum (UKTRF) reveals that 55% of Britons wish to see duty free allowances extended to arrivals shops at airports, ports and railway stations.

British travellers have been able to avail of duty free liquor and tobacco on trips to the EU since 1 January 2021 after the UK and EU sealed a post-Brexit trade deal.

All Britons travelling home from Europe, and the rest of the world, are able to buy 42 litres of beer, 18 litres of still wine, or four litres of spirits or sparkling wine after the UK government quadrupled the allowance limits.

But currently, such sales cannot take place on British soil, which the lobby argues disadvantages airports, airport retailers, and British business as the economic benefits are off-shored.

UK ‘missing out’

The polling comes as UKTRF members host an information event for MPs on arrivals duty free in parliament today (14 July) in partnership with the Airport Operators Association (AOA) and the Scotch Whisky Association, plus airports including Heathrow and Manchester Airports Group (MAG).

The event is being sponsored by Gavin Newlands, MP for Glasgow Airport, a vocal proponent of the aviation and travel industries.

As reported, the government has removed tax free sales on non-liquor and tobacco items at UK airports on airside goods [the issue was the subject of a high-profile petition by TRBusiness that drew more than 12,000 signatures – Ed]

At present, 65 countries including some EEA and Eastern European countries and practically all international travel hubs in Asia, the Middle East and Australasia, and several non-EU countries have arrivals duty free stores in place.

Nigel Keal, Chair, UK Travel Retail Forum.

When informed of this, 36% of Brits polled said this made them more likely to support the introduction of arrivals stores in the UK.

The UKTRF says UK businesses have so far missed out on the sales-generating opportunity, adding that a policy proposal like arrivals duty free could provide the industry with a much-needed boost to non-aeronautical revenue streams that many small airports rely on to survive.

It says that as travel recovers from the heavy impact of the pandemic, arrivals duty free would offer a ‘sustainable new source of revenue’ for UK international airports, rail stations and ports.

Commenting on the polling, Nigel Keal, Chair of the UK Travel Retail Forum, said: “We’ve already seen strong take-up of the government’s boost to duty free allowances, which travellers can avail of when they return to the country. The problem is that at present, these sales can only take place at the point of departure – offshore airports and ports.

“The UK Travel Retail Forum and our members are calling for this positive reform to be extended to arrival stores too, so Brits returning home and international tourists coming to the UK can shop on their entry to the UK, picking up products often only available exclusively through travel retail.

“We want to grasp this opportunity to make the duty free shopping experience more convenient for inbound travellers, while creating jobs and making the UK a more competitive destination.

“Crucially, we wanted to understand whether introducing arrival stores could lead to any displacement effects, taking money away from high street businesses or the Exchequer. Consumers are telling us that this would not be the case, and the introduction of duty free arrival stores would be an additional boon for businesses in Britain.”

TRBusiness has reached out to the UK Treasury for comment.

Ross Baker, Chief Commercial Officer, Heathrow Airport: “More generous duty free allowances incentivise British nationals to spend more while abroad, it’s time to turn the tables and make UK tax policy work for UK consumers and businesses.” Source: Heathrow.

A lead on European competition

Antonio Duva, Pernod Ricard’s EMEA General Manager for Travel Retail, added: “This new research clearly shows British travellers are eager to take advantage of the new rules put in place by the UK government – and want to support UK airports and businesses as they do so.

“This would offer convenience and great value for passengers, and drive growth for the UK’s duty free sector. Duty free shops are a great showcase for travellers from around the world to be introduced to British products, including Beefeater Gin and Scotch whiskies such as Chivas, Royal Salute, and The Glenlivet.”

Ross Baker, Chief Commercial Officer at Heathrow Airport, said: “Arrivals duty free stores represent a huge opportunity for the government to steal a march on our European competitors.

“More generous duty free allowances incentivise British nationals to spend more while abroad, it’s time to turn the tables and make UK tax policy work for UK consumers and businesses.”

Fred Creighton, CEO at Dufry-owned World Duty Free, added: “The government’s duty free reforms have already made liquor and alcohol cheaper to buy in departure areas, and we’ve seen how excited consumers returning to travelling are about the offers that are now available.

“We’re calling on the government to make it possible for us to offer these great savings to consumers on their arrival into the UK too, by revamping existing rules and allowing us to open up duty free arrival stores.”

UKTRF’s members include airports, shop operators, agents and distributors and the manufacturers and suppliers of wines and spirits, beauty and confectionery products, representing a huge range of major brands.

*Poll conducted by Yonder Consulting and carried out among just over 2,000 consumers, of which 8% disagreed with the policy of extending duty free to UK arrivals shops.

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