Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 11:59 UK

London's Arab tourist 'oil rush'

A Middle Eastern family in Oxford Street
Middle Eastern tourists make up a third of foreign trade in Oxford Street

The West End is bracing itself for an "oil rush" of Middle Eastern tourists ahead of Ramadan - with sales to Arab shoppers already up 50% this year.

Many shop-workers are learning Arabic ahead of the influx, while some shops are widening aisles as Middle Eastern tourists tend to shop in big groups.

Arabs stay longer and spend more than other tourists, outspending Americans by 60%, the New West End Company said.

A Middle Eastern man recently spent £30,000 on furniture in one shop.

It is anticipated Arabic tourists will part with £250m in the West End between July and September.

TOP SPENDING TOURISTS
Average spend in London by nationality:
Saudi Arabia, £1,678
Russia, £1,169
United Arab Emirates, £1,109
Singapore, £984
Hong Kong, £870

That figure may be higher if major Middle Eastern royal families visit - many Arabs choose a destination based on their monarch's travel plans.

Stuart Chappell is general manager of the upmarket Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch.

He said: "Unlike many foreign visitors, Middle Eastern guests often stay for long periods, sometimes three months or more.

"Many guests travel en-mass and we regularly see one party occupying 20 rooms. It's a demanding market but increasingly important."

Biggest customers

The hotel has started providing separate male and female prayer rooms.

Noel Saunders of John Lewis, Oxford Street said: "Middle Eastern countries are our biggest international customers, accounting for 35.5% of sales.

If one of the major royal families comes to the West End we'll see a surge of Middle East shoppers follow
Reda Bensenouci, Arabic-speaking street warden

"Leading countries include Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates - and for the first time we have seen an increase in Libyan shoppers."

In 2008, there were 315,000 Middle Eastern visitors in London, spending an average of 14 nights in the city.

Ken Kelling, of Visit London, explained: "London is particularly attractive because of our luxury brands.

"Numbers of Middle Eastern visitors are lower than more traditional markets from Europe and America, but their spend is a good deal higher."

Reda Bensenouci, an Arabic-speaking West End street warden, said: "Middle Eastern visitors are reluctant to ask for advice but they are friendly and often quite formal, preferring to shake hands.

"If one of the major royal families comes to the West End we'll see a surge of Middle East shoppers follow."



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