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PolyU School of Hotel and Tourism Management partners with WTTC to define the future of global retail tourism

(From left): Ms Julia Simpson, WTTC President and CEO; Prof Haiyan Song, SHTM Associate Dean; Ms Desirée Bollier, The Bicester Collection Chair and Global Chief Merchant; and Ms Elena Foguet, The Bicester Collection Business Director Spain.

Studying global retail tourism from both the demand and supply perspectives was expected to promote both economic recovery and the sustainable development of travel and tourism.

The School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University has joined hands with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to support the sustainable development of global tourism. Undertaken collaboratively by teams from the SHTM’s Hospitality and Tourism Research Centre and the Council, the WTTC–SHTM Global Retail Tourism project offers critical data-driven insights into the key trends, challenges and opportunities shaping retail tourism in the post-pandemic era.

Although travellers collectively spend billions of dollars every year on shopping, to date there has been a lack of an accurate estimate of the contribution of retail tourism to destination economies. Filling this gap, the researchers set out to provide a thorough understanding of this sector against the backdrop of the post-COVID-19 rebound in international tourism which saw revenues from inbound visitors grow by 81.9% in 2022. 

The collaboration was initiated in July 2022, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the SHTM and the WTTC. The School’s team comprised Professor Haiyan Song, Associate Dean, Chair Professor and Mr and Mrs Chan Chak Fu Professor in International Tourism; Dr Richard Qiu, Assistant Professor; and Dr Anyu Liu, Assistant Professor together with two research assistants. Headed by Professor Song, they worked closely with the WTTC research team led by Mr Nejc Jus, Head of Research, over the subsequent year.

The project had three main objectives. The first was to capture the current economic landscape and importance of retail tourism. The second was to shed light on the factors that are shaping demand and supply in the sector at the global and regional levels from the perspectives of tourists and practitioners. The third was to provide guidance for stakeholders on managing the development of the sector sustainably. The researchers applied a mixed-method approach to draw together a comprehensive set of economic, consumer and industry data.

Their first step was to assess the overall contribution of retail tourism to the GDP of major destinations based on data from Oxford Economics, a leader in global economic forecasting and econometric analysis. Next, the SHTM team conducted a survey covering 24 major destinations to gather consumer data on tourists’ shopping behaviours before and after COVID-19. The survey data, gathered from nearly 4,600 tourists, also allowed the team to analyse the demand for sustainable retail goods among travellers.

Finally, the SHTM and WTTC teams jointly conducted in-depth interviews with 13 industry leaders from the retail businesses, NGOs and travel trade to obtain an industry perspective on the key challenges and opportunities facing the sector. This step was conducted with the help of The Bicester Collection, which represents luxury shopping destinations across Europe and China.

The insights gained from this research were drawn together in a ground-breaking report entitled “Global Retail Tourism: Trends and Insights”, which was formally launched at a thought leadership event at La Roca Village in Barcelona, Spain on 7 September 2023. The report’s key findings and recommendations were introduced by a panel consisting of Professor Haiyan Song; Ms Julia Simpson, President and CEO, WTTC; and Ms Desirée Bollier, Chair and Global Chief Merchant, The Bicester Collection. 

As the attendees – who came from both the public and private sectors – discovered, the report sheds light on the immense untapped potential of retail tourism for both businesses and destinations. It offers insights into travellers’ shopping habits and intentions and pinpoints emerging trends such as sustainable retail and “retailment” – the fusion of retail and entertainment. After delving even deeper into the retail tourism landscape through detailed case studies of the UK and Hong Kong, the report concludes with recommendations for retailers, destination management organisations and governments.

“Sustainability in travel and tourism will continue to grow in significance after the COVID-19 pandemic,” states Professor Haiyan Song. “It is imperative that retailers understand how much shoppers and travellers are willing to pay for sustainable products.”

The SHTM is proud to have made such an impactful contribution to understanding of the global retail tourism sector, which is playing a pivotal role in the recovery of travel and tourism post-COVID-19. “We are delighted to be part of the WTTC–SHTM Global Retail Tourism project, as applying our knowledge to support the global industry is high on the School’s research agenda”, said Professor Kaye Chon, SHTM Dean, Chair Professor and Walter and Wendy Kwok Family Foundation Professor in International Hospitality Management.

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Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.