Retail tourism offers resurgence and growth

Desiree Bollier (right), The Bicester Collection Chair and Global Chief Merchant; with Julia Simpson, WTTC President and CEO; and Haiyan Song, Director at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

In the grand tapestry of the global economy, retail tourism is a thread that we cannot afford to overlook. In 2019, it contributed 6 per cent to the travel and tourism sector, and in some nations, it accounted for over 15 per cent of the sector’s GDP. However, both the travel and retail industries suffered severe blows during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we emerge from this challenging period, we must recognize retail tourism as a powerful engine for economic recovery.

The pandemic has instilled in consumers a desire for extraordinary, personalised experiences. It’s a mindset cultivated through resilience – ‘I endured, and I deserve.’ This mindset can propel retail tourism to new heights, yielding benefits not only for shoppers but also local communities and our planet.

The recent Global Retail Tourism Trends & Insights report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, in partnership with Hong Kong Polytechnic University and The Bicester Collection, highlights ‘Retailtainment’ as a key factor shaping the future of retail tourism. Driven by consumers’ demand for memorable experiences alongside products, research shows that shopping has transcended mere transactions and transformed into an immersive experience where retail, hospitality and entertainment coexist.

This principle of Retailtainment has been woven into the DNA of The Bicester Collection since its inception over a quarter-century ago. We’ve built a global platform of luxury retail destinations in the UK, Europe and China, representing our foresight in breaking traditional silos and paving the way for the vibrant retail tourism landscape we witness today.

In 2024, Long Island will witness a new surge in retail tourism with the opening of Belmont Park Village, the latest addition to The Bicester Collection. This village will offer 155 fashion boutiques, seven restaurants and sits at the heart of a campus which includes the UBS Arena, a state-of-the-art sports and music venue, and the historic Belmont Park racecourse. Its development is testament to the growing desire for multifaceted experiences in retail tourism and at just seven miles from John F. Kennedy International Airport and 13 from LaGuardia Airport, the campus is set to become a sought-after location attracting the most discerning of the 65 million tourist who visit New York annually.

Sustainability is another force charting the course of retail tourism as consumers become increasingly driven by conscious choices. At The Bicester Collection, we’re guided by a deep commitment to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles in every aspect of our business.

However, for the sector to thrive, we need governments to recognise their pivotal role. Policies that support tax-free shopping and flexible labour laws can attract more retail tourists and bolster the economy. Here, governments hold the key to unlocking the full potential of retail tourism.

We need to think of retail tourism beyond shopping; it’s about rejuvenating economies, celebrating culture and embracing tomorrow. It’s time to recognise its significance and potential as we build our post-pandemic world. Retail tourism is not just a way to bounce back; it’s a path to leap forward towards a more prosperous and sustainable future.