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It’s Time For Travel Companies To Explore Shopping Tourism

A couple of years ago I was engaged by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand’s economic development and trade promotion agency, to conduct a series of workshops across the country to help its trade partners explore opportunities in the American luxury market.

My first stop was Auckland where my host was quick to point out she arranged accommodations in the city’s luxury shopping district where all the international luxury brands made their home. Not wanting to seem ungracious, I didn’t tell her that was the last place I wanted to be. Rather I wanted to see where the locals shopped and visit the local boutiques where the true flavor of New Zealand shopping is found. I enjoyed a pleasant walk as I passed by the Gucci and Prada stores on Queen Street to the shopping districts where the locals hang out.

Everybody knows that shopping and travel go together like “peas and carrots,” as Forrest Gump would say. Yet when I canvased my connections in the travel tourism industry, I didn’t find much in the way of tour providers making shopping tourism a primary focus of their services. Rather, shopping experiences were treated more as a side than a main course in the travel experiences served.

Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet Travel, a company that offers international packaged tours in 45 countries, and who has been in business over 36 years, said, “I confess I haven’t run any tours like this myself and I don’t know of any organized shopping tours.” She did however suggest that many travel companies make visits to various seasonal markets, like the Christmas markets of Germany and Eastern Europe, a part of their itineraries. But she added, these are not, “actual shopping trips organized around this purpose.”

While local and regional business groups and governmental agencies research the economic contribution of travelers to their economy, business-focused research into shopping tourism is light, as revealed by researcher Mi Ju Choi, et. al. in a study “Progress in Shopping Tourism,”  in which she notes, “Shopping tourism is a new form of tourism.”

One of the reasons postulated by Dallen J. Timothy in his book Shopping Tourism, Retailing, and Leisure, is that there is not a clear cut understanding of the difference between shopping tourism and tourist shopping. For Timothy the distinction is clear. Shopping tourism is where “shopping is the primary motivation for a trip, or the primary element in forging the touristic experience.”

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a United Nations agency responsible for promoting “tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability,” has done some work looking at business opportunities in shopping tourism, through conferences and a recent UNWTO Global Report on Shopping Tourism. But this report emphasizes shopping tourism “particularly in the emerging markets of China and Brazil,” and is more destination specific.

Yet the UN report states emphatically, “Shopping tourism is transitioning from being a complementary factor to establishing itself as a major determinant in the tourists’ decisions about their preferred destinations.”

It’s time for travel service providers to take notice. Here are some of the emerging shopping tourism opportunities my research uncovered:

  • Make travel an integral part of the product experience

Goldman noted that people go to certain destinations, particularly in parts of Asia and China, “first, to see the country and second, to go shopping.” That is the idea behind Tailor Made Shanghai, which brings men and women to Shanghai for a one-week vacation to see the sites and get fitted for tailor-made clothes, which are finished in time to take home on their flight.

Founder David Soffer, an American transplant to China, saw the growing interest in made-to-measure clothing from online brands. He decided rather than just deliver such clothing that he’d add a unique travel experience into the mix and launched his company in April this year. “All of the other online made-to-measure clothing brands are essentially selling the same exact thing, with very little in the way of innovation,” Soffer said. “I decided to create a fashion brand integrated with a travel-experience because much of the latest insight into the retail industry has shown that consumers are looking not just to buy something, but to have an experience while making a purchase.”

By bringing “Stylish Adventurers,” the appellation Soffer gives to his target customers, to Shanghai, his company offers a significant price advantage over the average price for competitors’ clothing, like INDOCHINO, J. Hilburn and Trumaker. The travel part of the equation, $1,995 per person, is also budget conscious, including seven nights at the 5-star Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel, all meals, entry fees to key sites and a bilingual guide to accompany shoppers everywhere they venture. “I was excited to create this never-been-done-before shopping tour concept,” Soffer said.

  • Hotels fill the gap

Increasingly hotels are incorporating shopping into their guests’ experiences travel blogger Krista Canfield McNishtells me. Like Paris’ Hotel du Petit Moulin, the boutique hotel designed by Christian Lacroix, which offers a shopping package that includes a three-hour personal shopping tour of Le Marais in cooperation with Localers, a custom tour company.

Palace Hotel Tokyo has a shopping package, Couture Tokyo, that includes a personal concierge to guide guests while shopping at Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi, Japan’s oldest and “grandest” department store, along with a JPY 50,000 gift card to use while shopping.

And through December, the Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigeloffers a $50,000 “Shopping Spree” at South Coast Plaza in honor of its 50th Anniversary. This package is designed for international travelers eager to take advantage of favorable currency exchange rates and cheaper prices for luxury goods available in the states compared to those at home. Guests’ two-night accommodations are included in the $50,000 ticket, along with VIP passport to more than 100 stores and restaurants and private car service.

  • Fashion stylist become tour operators

And perhaps no one is better qualified to guide shopping tourists than professional shoppers, i.e. stylists. That is the thinking behind a new tour offered by Go Ahead Tours. With a slate of over 175 tours, Go Ahead Tours is just now launching a shopping retail tour to Paris, with Boston-based stylist, Alisa Neely, Go Ahead’s official Style Partner.

Kaitllyn Bascone, part of the leadership team at Go Ahead Tours, explained “This tour is focused on providing travelers with a perfect blend of history, inspiration and retail therapy.” It includes private shopping at Merci, a visit to the Palais Galliera fashion museum, and a chance to create a custom perfume with a stop at Nose, plus wine tastings, dining, a visit to Versailles and a Seine River cruise.

Go Ahead Tours plans to follow this up with a series of tours in other fashion capitals of the world, including Milan, New York, London and Berlin, starting in 2018. The goal is “to provide travelers with shopping experiences unlike anything that can be found in the United States,” Bascone said.

However, Natasha Malinsky might take issue with that. Her company, ShopNYC Tours, offers “behind-the-scenes shopping and lifestyle experiences in New York City,” America’s fashion capital. After having hosted a popular “Sex and the City Tour,” Malinsky decided to package tours to give visitors insider access to the places where the “Sex and the City” girls would shop. Themed tours include Chic Boutique Tour, Vintage Boutique Tour, Teen Fashion Tour, Recessionista Tour and Fashion Insider’s Tour, with options for luxury travel in a chauffeur-driven car or subway/walking tours for those who want the full-on NYC experience. “You Do the Shopping – We Do the Research” is ShopNYC Tours’ tag line.

In conclusion, the travel industry is only beginning to see the possibilities in the shopping tourism market. Shopping is an essential part of travelers’ experiences. It allows them to take home a physical memento of their adventures along with their photographs. Time is ripe for travel companies to exploit shopping tourism’s potential.

My book, “Shops that POP! 7 Steps to Extraordinary Retail Success,” reveals how to make shopping an experience.

Meet me at Unity Marketing or connect via TwitterLinkedInFacebook

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