Ramadan gold rush: It's that time of year when the Arab plutocracy descends on austerity London to party and spend. And their shopping sprees are more blingtastic than ever
By Tom Rawstorne
PUBLISHED:21:02 GMT, 29 June 2012 |
Outside London’s five-star Dorchester Hotel sits a Bugatti Veyron. These 253 mph supercars are rare enough at the best of times, but this one is unique: known as L’Or Blanc, or White Gold, its exterior is inlaid with porcelain, giving it the appearance of a highly polished humbug.
In terms of conspicuous consumption that takes some beating — £1.6 million for a car that is as delicate as a tea-set.
But for the Saudi owner who has had it flown over to London for the duration of his visit, that is what life is all about. Like the first swallows of summer, the arrival of the world’s rarest supercars in the capital heralds the start of another, lesser known, season — the Ramadan Rush.
Designed to stand out and be unique, the £1.6m Bugatti Veron known as L'Or Blanc or White Gold does just that
This year the weeks leading up to the Muslim month of fasting, which begins on July 20, have seen millionaires and billionaires flock to London from across the Middle East.
They come to escape the oppressive heat back home, to relax, to party and, above all, to show off their wealth.
For upmarket shops, restaurants, nightclubs and hotels, it is bonanza time. Forget the summer sales, these visitors want the best and are prepared to pay for it
And so it is that Bond Street jewellers, West End designer outlets, casinos such as Les Ambassedeurs, restaurants such as Le Caprice, and hotels such as The Sheraton Park Tower have been instructing their (Arabic-speaking) staff to roll out the red carpet.
The figures speak for themselves: some five-star hotels are reporting 80 per cent Middle Eastern occupancy.
The pre-Ramadan spending spree is boosting the profits of high-end stores such as Selfridges and Harrods
As for the stores, the average British shopper will spend £120 during a trip to the West End and an American £550. Compare that with the average Saudi spend of £1,900. What’s more, in the month before Ramadan, the amount spent by Middle Eastern visitors will be double that in other months.
Of course, it is not the first time the high-rollers have abandoned the fierce heat of a Middle Eastern summer for London. But this year the numbers are well up on before.
Saudi visitors are up 22 per cent year-on-year, while visitors from the UAE have risen to almost 120,000 — up nearly ten per cent.
With the burka banned in France, many who traditionally holidayed in Paris can do so no more. Furthermore, the shockwaves from the Arab Spring have encouraged many of the ruling elites to look beyond their own shores for a potential long-term safe haven.
As a result, while house prices in other parts of Britain stagnate in the recession, Middle Eastern buyers have piled in to London properties, particularly those worth upwards of £5million, driving prices up.
‘The Ramadan Rush is a total phenomenon,’ says Jace Tyrrell of the New West End Company, the management company for retailers in Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street.
‘It is worth millions to us — last year there was about £120 million spent in the pre-Ramadan rush by Middle Eastern visitors, but it grows every single year. We expect it to be up ten per cent this year.’
In central London the signs of this flood of Arab money, and of businesses’ efforts to catch it, are everywhere to see.
‘This stunning international fashion label is looking for an experienced Arabic-speaking sales advisor to join their upmarket concession within Harrods,’ reads one vacancy advert.
‘Arabic-speaking, experienced, talented makeup artists and skincare specialists needed for exciting positions in West End premier department store,’ reads another, one of dozens posted online. And it’s not just the staff who are hand-picked.
The visitors from the Middle East are not interested in buying run-of-the-mill designer goods and have no interest in discounted items. Consider the fact that the value of a single Saudi shopping transaction in London averages out at £600.
As a result the traditional summer sales in many upmarket London stores were brought forward to May and have ended early. They have now been replaced with tailored and often specially designed collections that will chime with the tastes of their incoming customers.
if you live in the right part of town, the sight of a Lamborghini Aventador is not that uncommon
‘They absolutely don’t want summer sales bargains, they want new season stock,’ explains a Selfridge’s spokesperson. ‘They’re very keen on fine jewellery and shoes, and on recognised brands like Chanel. They’re very savvy shoppers and they want the latest, most fashionable, limited-edition products.’
One example of targeting by the brands is to be found in the use of Oud, a distinctive fragrance, in scents and beauty products.
‘Oud is a particularly popular scent for Middle Eastern shoppers, so a limited edition of, say, an Oud-scented fragrance, whether it’s by Armani, Jo Malone or Tom Ford, is very popular,’ says the spokesperson.
An Abu Dhabi-registered Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead seen driving around the streets of the expensive Mayfair area of London
Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest draws for the visitors is Harrods. Indeed, so popular is the department store with Middle Eastern travellers that the Ramadan Rush has also been nicknamed the Harrods Hajj — a light-hearted reference to the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Again, limited-edition items are popular: Louis Vuitton handbags; diamond jewellery; watches from Cartier; leather goods; silk scarves, and perfumes from Hermès.
Many of the purchases will be paid for in cash. Atif Nawaz works a stone’s throw from Harrods, at the Knightsbridge Foreign Currency Exchange.
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