Who’s Got The Power? Retail Tourism Does

In a new report, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) explores the power of retail tourism and the insights offered could well change the way the industry thinks about shopping tourism.

“Global Retail Tourism: Trends and Insights” is a joint research initiative between WTTC and the Hospitality & Tourism Research Centre of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in collaboration with The Bicester Collection.

In 2019, retail tourism represented a substantial US$178 billion, comprising 6% of the travel and tourism sector’s value, and exceeding 15% in some destinations.

Despite this significant boost to economies across the globe, it has historically been under-researched, leading to a lack of critical data for strategic foresight.

The latest WTTC report addresses this gap, offering insights into travellers’ shopping habits, including visits to out-of-town retail destinations, and highlights emerging trends such as sustainable retail.

This report sheds light on the immense untapped potential of retail tourism for both destinations and businesses.

According to the report, this segment began to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in most markets in 2021, with the Americas and Europe leading the way. Demonstrating remarkable growth, it outpaced overall economies in almost all markets pre-pandemic, showcasing its resilience and future growth prospects.

Retail tourism is playing a pivotal role in the recovery of the travel and tourism sector, which saw inbound tourism revenues surging by 82% in 2022. Shopping is no longer just a leisure activity; it shapes travel decisions, enhances destination appeal, boosts foreign exchange earnings, and supports local brands and products.

The report highlights emerging themes, including ‘retailtainment’ – the fusion of retail and entertainment – to incentivize shopping and enhance the customer’s experience.

Commenting on the findings, WTTC President & CEO, Julia Simpson said: “Retail tourism is no longer just about buying souvenirs; it’s a driving force behind the recovery of the Travel & Tourism sector, contributing significantly to revenue, job creation, and overall economic growth.”

Simpson noted that: “This report underscores the untapped potential of retail tourism and the need for stakeholders across the Travel & Tourism sector to adapt to changing traveller preferences. Travellers are looking for authentic brands that capture the culture and uniqueness of their destination, as well as luxury brands in a luxurious setting.”

Desirée Bollier, The Bicester Collection Chair and Global Chief Merchant, observed that: “Merging economic prosperity with enriching experiences, retail tourism uplifts communities while celebrating cultural heritage.”

Bollier continued: “A collaborative approach between retail, travel, and tourism elevates the traveller’s journey, balancing sector growth with conscious actions. Through destination integrity, technological embrace, public-private cooperation, empathizing with the traveller’s point of view and advocating for well-considered policies, we chart the path for retail tourism’s dynamic future.”

Professor Haiyan Song, Director of Hospitality and Tourism Research Center in the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, noted that: “Sustainability in Travel & Tourism will continue to grow in significance after the COVID-19 pandemic and it is imperative that retailers understand how much shoppers and travellers are willing to pay for sustainable products.”

The report provides insights into the spending patterns and preferences of today’s shopping tourists. It underscores the merging of experiential tourism with shopping, meeting the demands of retail tourists.

While high-street shops remain popular shopping destinations, out-of-town retail is also growing in popularity, with around one-third of survey respondents reporting visits to such destinations. Additionally, online shopping complements rather than substitutes traditional retail experiences.

The report also offers recommendations for stakeholders in retail tourism, providing guidance on how to navigate these emerging trends successfully.

While the future of retail tourism looks positive, it’s essential to acknowledge and address certain obstacles, including challenges related to labour laws and the impact of tax-free shopping policies.

Overcoming these barriers will be crucial for the continued growth and sustainability of this dynamic sector.

Go to www.wttc.org for more.

In the photo

Julia Simpson, WTTC President & CEO, Professor Haiyan Song, School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Director of Hospitality and Tourism Research Center, Desirée Bollier, The Bicester Collection Chair and Global Chief Merchant, Elena Foguet, The Bicester Collection Business Director Spain