The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has launched “Global Retail Tourism: Trends and Insights,” a report intended to change the way we think about shopping tourism. Joint research between WTTC and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Hospitality and Tourism Research Centre, in collaboration with The Bicester Collection, was released at an event held at La Roca Village , part of The Bicester Collection, in Barcelona, Spain. to coincide with the 25th of the Villageth birthday.
In 2019, retail tourism accounted for a substantial US$178 billion, accounting for 6% of the value of the travel and tourism sector, and exceeding 15% in some destinations. Despite this significant boost for economies around the world, this topic has historically been understudied, leading to a lack of data essential to strategic foresight.
WTTC’s latest report fills this gap, providing insight into travelers’ shopping habits, including visits to out-of-town shopping destinations, and highlighting emerging trends such as sustainable retail. This report highlights the immense untapped potential of retail tourism, both for 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. Showing remarkable growth, it outperformed all economies in almost all markets before the pandemic, demonstrating its resilience and prospects for future growth.
Retail tourism is playing a central role in the recovery of the travel and tourism sector, which saw inbound tourism revenues increase by 82% in 2022. Shopping is no longer just a leisure activity; it shapes travel decisions, enhances destination appeal, increases foreign exchange earnings and supports local brands and products.
The report highlights emerging themes including retailtainment – the merging of retail and entertainment – to encourage purchases and improve the customer experience. Julia Simpson, President and CEO of WTTC, said: “Retail tourism is no longer just about buying souvenirs; it is a driver of the recovery of the travel and tourism sector, contributing significantly to revenues, job creation and overall economic growth.
“This report highlights the untapped potential of retail tourism and the need for travel and tourism stakeholders to adapt to changing traveler preferences. Travelers are looking for authentic brands that capture the culture and uniqueness of their destination, as well as luxury brands in a luxurious setting.
Désirée Bollier, President of The Bicester Collection and Global Chief Retailer, said: “By fusing economic prosperity and enriching experiences, retail tourism uplifts communities while celebrating cultural heritage.
“A collaborative approach between retail, travel and tourism elevates the traveler journey, balancing industry growth with conscious actions. Through destination integrity, adoption of technology, public-private cooperation, empathy with the traveler’s perspective, and advocacy for well-considered policies, we are charting a course for dynamic future of retail tourism.
Professor Haiyan Song, Director of the Hospitality and Tourism Research Center at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said: “Sustainability in travel and tourism will continue to gain in importance after the COVID-19 pandemic and it is imperative. that retailers understand how much shoppers and travelers are willing to pay for sustainable products.
The report provides valuable insights into the spending habits and preferences of tourists shopping today. It highlights the fusion of experiential tourism and shopping, thereby meeting the demands of retail tourists. While high street stores remain popular shopping destinations, out-of-town retail is also growing in popularity, with around a third of respondents saying they have visited these destinations. Additionally, online shopping complements rather than replaces traditional retail experiences.
The report also offers valuable recommendations to retail tourism stakeholders, providing them with guidance on how to successfully manage these emerging trends. Although the future of retail tourism looks positive, it is essential to recognize and overcome certain obstacles, including challenges related to labor laws and the impact of duty-free shopping policies.