What Retailers get Wrong about Tourists

I love to travel. Most people do. There is nothing like that feeling of stepping out into a country you’ve never visited, the assault on your senses from all the new sights and sounds, and the subtle ways that every part of this world does things differently.

It’s this drive that helps tourism make up a substantial portion of the world economy. Before the pandemic, tourism spending was 10% of global GDP and accounted for one quarter of new jobs. Now as forward bookings start to reach pre-pandemic levels again, the opportunities for retailers in this space are huge. But far too many are missing out.

That’s why I wrote Leading Travel and Tourism Retail, a handbook for retailers, hospitality venues and others that want to attract cash-rich, time-poor tourists and delight them. In my day job as the CEO of ChangeGroup, one of the world’s leading currency exchanges, I had seen too many mistakes made and I wanted to help. Here are three of the most common.

1. Focusing on products rather than experience.
The young are spearheading a shift toward valuing experiences rather than just objects.


Successful luxury brands are capitalizing on this by providing an in-store narrative experience that customers can value as much as their actual purchase. This ‘millennial state of mind’ is spreading to all generations.

This doesn’t mean that your products don’t have to be attractive and of high quality — of course they do — but tourists don’t want to buy things from a supermarket, they want something new and different. This in-store experience should cover everything — your packaging, your décor and especially the training you give your staff.

2. Sticking to credit cards.
Many assumed the internet would kill both retail and cash. They were wrong, and tourists still prefer the certainty, anonymity and safety of cash when travelling. Research suggests this has several sources: Cash is unhackable, it won’t surprise you with a big foreign transaction fee, and it will never leave you panicking about how to pay for something when a machine doesn’t work. And cash is spent — ChangeGroup data suggests about half of travel money obtained in their exchanges is spent within 200 meters distance. That means outlets wanting to appeal to tourists need to still offer cash payments.

Some other forms of payment can also be useful — such as accepting bank transfers or in-store loans for large purchases.

3. Trying to appeal to everyone.
Consumers from different parts of the world and different ages and economic strata want different things and different experiences. You are unlikely to have much luck trying to appeal to all of them.

Instead, do some research on what type of tourists enter your area and what kind of shopping they are likely to do. Get to know any large tourist draws in your area and currency exchanges nearby — perhaps you can partner up, or at least share some knowledge.

Once you know your potential market you can do the work needed to attract them. You can hire staff who can speak the dominant language of these tourists — and are familiar with the cultural norms of different groups.

The varieties are endless. American tourists love outgoing and conversational assistants, while other cultures prefer something more discreet. Younger consumers will be keen to see you show how sustainable your brand is. And some luxury tourists may actually prefer for your product to cost a little more, as this will give it cachet. These luxury tourists will also expect an experience that is luxury all the way through.

This won’t be easy, and you never want to turn a potential market away. But the way to get people in the door and not thinking “oh this is a tourist trap” is making sure you offer something unique.

Sacha Zackariya is Co-founder and CEO of ChangeGroup International Plc, a global provider of tourist foreign exchange and tax-free shopping services to 5 million customers per year, which operates in over 130 ultra prime shopping streets and airports worldwide. He is the author of Leading Travel and Tourism Retail, a new book that unpacks the changing world of post-pandemic retail tourism.

Feature Your Byline

Submit an Executive ViewPoints.


Access The Media Kit


Access Our Editorial Calendar

If you are downloading this on behalf of a client, please provide the company name and website information below: