French burka ban helps London to cash in on overseas shoppers

London stores are benefiting from a backlash to the Paris burka ban, as Middle Eastern shoppers choose to shop in the "more welcoming" capital.

Liberty and Selfridges have this year seen the number of international visitors increase by 45 per cent and 40 per cent respectively, compared with last year, with numbers expected to rise 15 per cent across the West End as a whole.

Anyone wearing a face-covering veil in France faces a €150 fine, after President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that the burka was "not welcome" there.

Jace Tyrell, director of the New West End Company, said the Middle Eastern market, in particular the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, was "absolutely critical" to the West End.

"When I was in the region in April, it was clear from feedback from the travel trade that what had happened in Paris was having an effect. London is seen as welcoming, friendly and accommodating," he said.

Middle Eastern shoppers spent on average £1,800 per shopping trip, compared with £120 by UK shoppers. The last two weeks of July, during the pre-Ramadam period, is the busiest time for visitors from these regions, with sales expected to exceed £200m.

Neil Cook, managing editor of the Gulf Times, based in Qatar, said: "There is some kind of backlash against the [burka] ban; people are more comfortable with London. Also, many people who would go to Beirut, Syria and other north African destinations are not choosing to travel there at the moment [because of recent unrest]. "

Harrods said: "Purchases from overseas shoppers represent a significant, growing proportion of Harrods sales. The fine jewellery, accessories, beauty and fragrance departments have seen the most notable impact."

Kate Brindley, of Liberty, said: "There has been a massive increase in shoppers from both the Middle East and China. This is partly because of pre-Olympics publicity for London, and also the weaker pound."

Selfridges has even brought its Christmas shop opening forward to July, to capitalise on the increase in tourists.

Nigel Wheatley, head of retail and marketing at Hamleys toy store, said there had been a "significant increase" in footfall in recent weeks. "We expect to see this rise continue as people are talking about London a lot more in the run up to the Olympics."

Myf Ryan, at Westfield, said: "We have seen an increased number of visitors from the Middle East at the high-end luxury shops. We also have a lot of visitors from China, Nigeria and America."

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