Heathrow joins lobby against UK tourism tax

Heathrow is adding its weight behind a campaign to re-instate tax free shopping for international tourists ahead of the spring Budget on March 6.

As chancellor, Rishi Sunak abolished tax-free shopping for tourists in 2020.

The incentive enabled tourists from outside the EU to claim back VAT on items bought in the UK, making them 20% cheaper.

Heathrow said: “While exports are thriving, Britain has shut the door on home grown growth, turning away international shoppers through the tourist tax and tarnishing the UK’s reputation as a competitive country to spend and do business with. 

“Heathrow has joined forces with the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses to make the case for an internationally competitive tax-free shopping incentive at the spring Budget.”

The disclosure came as the London hub saw a strong start to the year with January passenger numbers rising 9% year-on-year to reach six million.

A revival in travel to Asia Pacific and the Middle East offset a decline in passengers travelling to Africa.

Annual passenger numbers have risen by 23.5% year-on-year to 79.7 million

The London hub reported that 196,661 passengers were handled on Blue Monday on January 15.

It pointed to being named the best UK airport for the third consecutive year at the Travel Weekly Globe Travel Awards. 

Chief executive Thomas Woldbye said: “The year has got off to a strong start, retaining Heathrow’s crown as the best UK airport. 

“We are ready for the first passenger peak of the year, with February half term fast approaching.”

Meanwhile, Stansted reported 1.95 million passengers in January, up 6.9% on the same month last year, and beating the previous best of 1.93 million set in pre-pandemic January 2019.

The number of passengers using Stansted in the 12-months ending January 2024 reached 28.1 million, an increase of 14.8% on the previous year.

The top three most popular countries during the month were Spain, Italy and Poland, while the busiest routes were Dublin, Istanbul and Edinburgh.

The airport said that 99% of departing passengers passed through security in 15 minutes or less, with an average queue time of under four minutes during the main departure peaks.

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