The New American Import—ShoppersNitin Sumangali |
U.S. merchants, still reeling from domestic consumers’ shift to thrift, are finding a fallback position in the form of international tourists. By attracting global tourism, American retailers are encountering eager shoppers, pockets flush with foreign currencies.
The Washington Post highlighted this trend recently by pointing out some of the overlooked opportunities for retailers that are drawing international tourists. Foreign travelers’ purchases in the U.S. are counted as exports—and they are spending big.
According to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, from January through June of this year, international visitors spent $87 billion on travel and tourism-related goods, up 13 percent from last year. This represents approximately 8 percent of U.S. exports for the first half of 2011.
The next step for the U.S. government and retailers is to move from passively—if gratefully—accepting the flow of tourists to actively attracting such shoppers by promoting retailers and making it easier for foreign visitors to come to America.
Foreign visitors’ spending not only underscores the importance of travelers, it throws light on the continuing importance of cities. In 2010, New York City drew 48.7 million tourists spending $31 billion dollars. While only 9.7 million of these tourists came from abroad, they spent $15.5 billion of the dollars. That’s 20% of the visitors spending 50% of the money.
Source: Daily Finance, January 2011
In cities like Washington, D.C., travel and tourism bureaus are ramping up efforts to market the city to foreign travelers. According to the city’s Destination DC, 10 percent of the city’s 17.3 million tourists are foreign. These travelers are crucial for cities to attract because they stay longer and spend more money than domestic tourists. While American tourists usually spend $275 over a three-night trip, foreign travelers typically spend $813 and do so over five nights. In response, Destination DC ‘s chief executive Elliott Ferguson is trying to build Washington’s brand in the mind of travelers. With sales representatives in Britain, Germany, and more recently Brazil, Destination DC is trying to create buzz about the more glamorous aspects of Washington, in an effort to attract leisure travelers as opposed to the typical government and business sorts.
The State Department is doing its part by pledging to cut the time needed to acquire a tourist visa down from as many as 100 days in some countries to as few as 30.
The continued growth of economic power in countries like Brazil and China means they are increasingly looking for goods that cannot be found at home at the same low U.S. prices. Tourists represent an easy way for retailers and merchants to boost their revenue in a tough climate, as well as possibly tap markets where they have no brick-and-mortar presence. The demand for U.S. goods looks to be sufficiently high that it can meet the needs of U.S. merchants looking for customers, cities looking for travelers, and a country looking for consumers.