Shopping Tourism: Confessions of a travelling shopaholic

From the most appealing ingredient of a travel itinerary to a determinant factor in zeroing in on a destination, shopping is an important component of the overall travel experience and, in fact, in some cases, it’s the dominating travel motivation.

Bharti Sharma

A weekend break to London’s Christmas markets, discovering the boutiques along the Avenue des Champs Elysées, buying that special gift at Singapore airport duty-free shop or discovering the bustling night markets of downtown Hong Kong, shopping for pleasure is no longer a purely incidental activity to dip into while travelling for leisure. Today, for millions of tourists it represents the principal – or one of the principal motivations for travelling.

Lost in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul or strolling through the Bicester Village Shopping Complex, destinations didn’t waste much time in recognising the potential opportunity they can leverage from this old-new market style by developing authentic and unique shopping experiences. It’s something that adds value to a destination’s touristic charm while reinforcing, and even, defining their tourism brand and positioning. Are the days of enticing people with ‘what to see’ is a thing of the past? Are travellers now looking for ‘what to do’ while making their destination choice? Perhaps the answer to becoming a destination of choice now lies in the quality of its retail offerings.

Gold-mine for economy

Travel and shopping have been widely recognised for their symbiotic relationship in generating income for the economy. Shopping has become one of the most stimulating activities while travelling and it contributes a hefty share to the global tourism economy. It dominates the share graph of a tourists’ expenditure, representing a significant source of income for national economies both directly and through the numerous routes to other sectors in the economy. This development reflects the growing interest in and increased demand for Vienna as a destination among the opulent visitors from Russia, the Arab countries and Asia, concluding from their swelling numbers in recent years. This is attributable not only to the recent strong economic upswing in these countries but also to the prevalent custom of bringing home gifts in these cultures, especially in Asia. Though the list of articles in demand is exhausting, the demand for watches, jewellery and fashion articles top the list.

Shopping as an experience

The evolution of tourists has ensued evolved tourism activities; one of the most enjoyable leisure activities engaged by tourists is shopping. Shopping is not only a pretentious activity to get daily essentials, but it has become one of the most enjoyable leisure activities and vital activities engaged in by tourists while travelling, be it on a vacation or off-shore for work.

It’s a steal for tourism boards/ tourism campaigns

In 2014, UNWTO came out with the first ‘Global Report on Shopping Tourism’ which identified shopping as a major influence on tourism trends globally. As most tourists nowadays are motivated to travel for shopping purposes, the bulletin discussed several tourism destinations that have worked hard in highlighting the shopping campaigns and festivals as part of their marketing strategies. Marketers and destination management organisations perpetually came out with their shopping campaigns to lure tourists to the destination. In response to these activities, travel agencies also create various travel packages to fulfill the tourists leisure pursuit, among others is shopping. This includes the increasing trends of tourists seeking enjoyable and memorable moments. Although some of them may not actually purchase the products, they still consider shopping as leisure activity while travelling. As shopping activities continue to flourish in the tourism industry, it also gives a significant impact to the economic, psychological and social conditions. Some of the examples are:

  • ‘Shopping by Paris’ campaign for 2014 includes a package offering visitors a 10 per cent reduction in over 270 stores for a set period. The ‘Tourisme en Ville’ programme also aims to draw visitors to other cities, thus lengthening visitors’ stay in the country and spreading the economic impact of tourism spending beyond the capital
  • Spain ranked second in the world for receipts from tourism spending in 2012. City tourism and shopping were themes promoted in the latest ‘I need Spain’ promotion campaign. Global Blue estimates that a total of US$1.1 billion was spent on shopping in the country by visitors from outside the EU with 48 per cent and 31 per cent of expenditure made in Barcelona and Madrid respectively.
  • Malaysia has done much to promote shopping tourism, including the creation of the Malaysian Mega Sales Carnival. The Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival, a campaign featuring special events and programmes designed to raise the country’s profile among international audiences. It provides a major contribution to the government’s target to receive 36 million tourist arrivals and RM 168 billion in receipts by 2020.

Rallying the troops

Most tourist travel itineraries nowadays are considered incomplete unless adequate provision for shopping activities are calibrated. One of the most prevalent practices that has stood the test of time is tourists soughting souvenirs as a remembrance of their vacation/trip, things that will make them recall their travelling experience. The significance of shopping activities has been extensively published from the perspective of demand and supply of tourism. The tourists are attracted to visit the tourism destination for the purpose of shopping as well as the tourism destination, in turn, develop to become a major shopping tourism destination. Shopping has become one of the most important world-wide activities.

The domino effect

Various shopping dedicated locales focus on several key areas including but not restricted to attracting visitors, creation of tourism products, efficient use of tourism attractions and the quality of infrastructure. But, alongside these, recent trends have also witnessed increased consideration being given to community involvement in tourism as well as local socio-economic well-being and the promotion of employment being emphasized upon. The aim is to position the destination as a comprehensive value-added shopping tourism through innovative experiences in shopping tourism. At the same time, it aims to promote the integration of companies and individuals from different areas in the value chain of tourism and its surroundings (artisans, agriculture, leather, footwear, design, automotive, among others), while stimulating the creation of employment and new opportunities based on the promotion of high value-added shopping tourism and local development.


Celebrating shopping? Why not?

In various countries around the world, the weightage and significance of shopping can be deduced from the fact that they have full-fledged Shopping Festivals! These events can go on for days or even weeks, and it’s not just the big chain stores offering sale prices, there’s massive discounts, giveaways, competitions and entertainment that caters to all age groups and shoppers from small boutiques to the massive chain stores! So if you’re keen to bag a bargain off-shore, take an empty suitcase (or two!), head to these five fantastic locations and get ready to shop til you drop!



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