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Heathrow see strong traffic, but calls on gov't to abolish 'tourist tax'

(Sharecast News) - Heathrow has hailed a "smashing" start to the year with nearly six million passengers using the airport in January, but called on the government to reconsider its 2021 decision to abolish tax-free shopping for international visitors. Some 5,996,000 people travelled through Heathrow last month, marking a 9.4% increase in terminal passengers on January 2023, with 196,661 passengers flying on so-called Blue Monday on 15 January, the airport said.

"2024 has got off to a smashing start with Heathrow being named the best UK airport for the 3rd consecutive year at the Travel Weekly Globe Travel Awards. This accolade is testament to the hard work and dedication of all colleagues across Team Heathrow," the airport said.

Passenger numbers to and from Africa were down 3.3% year-on-year, but all other regions saw growth, including double-digit growth from the Middle East (+10.4%) and Asia Pacific (+18.3%). European travel, which accounts for around 30% of all traffic at Heathrow, increased by 8.3%

Meanwhile, cargo traffic totalled 122,255 metric tonnes in January, up 20.2% on last year, with every region experiencing growth.

Heathrow's 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."

However, in the statement the airport called on the government to consider resuming tax-free shopping for international consumers as tourist taxes were "shut[ting] the door on home-grown growth". Up until 2021, non-EU visitors were able to claw back a 20% VAT refund on their goods when shopping in the UK.

The UK is now the only European country to not offer VAT-free shopping incentives, which is "tarnishing the UK's reputation as a competitive country to spend and do business with", Heathrow said.

"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."

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