Shopping and Tourism in Asian Cities

Tourism is growing worldwide and the Asia Pacific region is no exception. In 2013, international tourists accounted for 1,128 million trips globally, of which 256 million were to Asia Pacific, with the region accounting for an impressive tourism share exceeded only by Western Europe. Shopping plays a major role in determining tourist destinations, making numerous Asia Pacific cities compete for the title of “shopping paradise”.

Attractive Shopping Environment Stimulates International Tourism in Asia Pacific Cities

Source: Euromonitor International and the Globe Shopper Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit and Global Blue

Striving for the best shopping experience

Indeed, the importance of shopping is recognised by national authorities. Tourism strategies often aim to increase foreign visitor spending in stores through such measures as national sales. For instance, Thailand’s “Amazing Thailand” tourism campaign includes the “Amazing Thailand Shopping Paradise” project and the “Amazing Thailand Grand Sale”, which takes place from June to August every year.

Such investment in a better tourist shopping experience seems to be paying off. Naturally, Asia Pacific cities vary in terms of infrastructure and opportunities for shopping tourists, as demonstrated by the Globe Shopper Index (GSI), which rates cities in five categories important to travellers – shops, affordability, convenience, hotels and transport and culture and climate. However, a higher GSI score can generally be associated with a larger amount of international tourist arrivals in Asia Pacific cities (as demonstrated by the scatter above).

Stars of the region

Among Asia Pacific destinations, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Bangkok seem to benefit the most from their good shopping environments, although these cities differ in terms of their distinct advantages. Kuala Lumpur is known for being home to three of the world’s 10 largest malls. The city also features a winning combination of high-quality shopping, affordable prices and reliable sales, which last for several months. Indeed, Kuala Lumpur ranked fifth among the world’s most visited cities in 2013 with 11 million international tourist arrivals, and was exceeded only by such long-standing tourism leaders as Paris, Bangkok, London and New York.

Bangkok, on the other hand, also rather well-rated for its shopping environment, surpassed this to a large extent and ranked as the most visited city in Asia Pacific with nearly 16 million international arrivals in 2013. Tourists from China particularly benefit Thailand’s tourism industry, increasing by 62% in 2012 to become the largest tourism source market thanks to Thailand’s proximity, shopping and attractions. As a result, Bangkok edged out London for the first time in 2013 in terms of international tourist arrivals.

Another major Asian shopping destination – Shanghai – claims to surpass Singapore in its GSI, which tends to be a much more noted destination for shopping tourism. Shanghai has a well-developed tourism infrastructure. Yet, relatively high prices driven by substantial sales taxes somewhat hamper its shopping potential. In 2013, Shanghai was visited by eight million foreign tourists. The city has ambitious plans to increase its total tourist spending by 70% between 2010 and 2015.