The beginning of Ramadan is always up in the air. Literally in this instance, as the exact start-date depends entirely on the first sighting of the new moon.

This year, Saturday May 27th is widely predicted to mark the first day of the Holy Month which will run for 28 or 29 days, probably until Saturday June 24th. In this time Muslims cannot eat, drink, smoke or even chew gum during the hours of daylight.

Despite being characterised as a time of self-sacrifice and denial, Ramadan is big business for brands. According to research from YouGov, over half of respondents in Middle Eastern countries said they will spend more over Ramadan; mostly on food, soft drinks and groceries as Muslims around the world look for something tasty to break their daily fast. And this doesn’t only apply to Muslim-majority countries: Ramadan is widely considered the third-biggest sales period for Britain’s supermarkets after Christmas and Easter, with Tesco alone making around £30m on Ramadan sales in 2016.

However, it’s the post-Ramadan period where things get really interesting. And by “really interesting”, I mean “really lucrative”.

Google data from the Middle East and North Africa shows that search activity for flights and hotels rises significantly during Ramadan, with a particular spike in the second half and immediately after. And what’s one of the most popular destinations searched? London.

In devout Muslim countries, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan is called “Eid Al-Fitr”. In the less-than-devout high streets of the UK it’s better known as the “Ramadan Rush”, with affluent Muslims from Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia flocking to London to splash out on gifts for loved ones and tripling department stores’ sales in the process. In fact, the number of Arabian shoppers visiting a certain local shop in Knightsbridge has led to it being called the “Harrods Hajj”, after the traditional Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

If all this was true before the 23rd of June last year, the post-Brexit collapse of the pound has made the capital’s high streets even more attractive to international consumers, with tax free shopping rising by 45% in the last quarter of 2016, driven by a growing number of visitors from the Middle East which experts predict will continue into next year.

It’s not just the department stores that benefit: Bond Street jewellers, designer outlets and five-star hotels all reap the post-Ramadan windfall. Last July, according to data from Global Blue, tourists from Qatar had the biggest average spend in the U.K. at £1,643. That’s not per trip….that’s per transaction. UAE visitors were in second place, spending a mere £983. Little wonder that the streets of Mayfair resemble the forecourt of a Lamborghini dealer around this time.

London doesn’t even enjoy the biggest uptick in sales. That honour belongs to the sleepy Oxfordshire town of Bicester (also the home of Britain’s most famous outlet mall) which benefits from a rise of 276%. London struggles by on a piddling 162% increase, while Manchester (up 61%), Edinburgh (up 46%) and Brighton (up 35%) also reap dividends.

The country’s retailers aren’t the only ones being showered with Qatari riyal. All this high street activity comes on top of the Qatari Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the country plans to invest five million pounds in Britain over the next five years, concentrating mainly on the energy, infrastructure and property sectors, so expect to see increasing numbers of Qatari businessmen jetting into the UK’s airports to check on their UK PLC investments.

Between them, Qatar Airways & Etihad Airways will carry over 160,000 incredibly affluent, free-spending high-rollers to the UK in the four weeks following Ramadan alone. That’s a six or seven hour journey with the beautifully reimagined Oryx and Atlas magazines in front of them, brimming with gorgeous images, fascinating editorial and, of course, inspiring advertising.

Of course, once you’ve digested all this I can come back later in the year to let you know how Ink can help you reach many of the 2 million passengers travelling through Jeddah airport’s Hajj terminal, specifically built for Islamic pilgrims visiting Mecca in August & September.

Steve Rowbotham

Sales Director  

First published on LinkedIn