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How to offer Africa’s ‘retail tourists’ so much more than a shopping experience

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4 min read

As a travel supplier, you will already be aware of the fact that shopping usually constitutes part of most tourists’ travel itineraries, with most spending time shopping for souvenirs, mementos, and luxury items. However, did you know that a number of tourists visiting South Africa come to the country purely with the intention of shopping for specific goods? This is a massive trend particularly amongst tourists filtering in from neighbouring African countries.

When examining the arrival statistics over the last decade, you will come to find that, on average, three quarters of all arrivals are African nationals. As such, it becomes clear that ‘retail/shopping tourism’ is probably more common than most travel suppliers are aware.

Before proceeding any further, it is important to distinguish between the terms ‘shopping tourism’ and ‘tourist shopping’. These terms are not interchangeable. In fact, the individuals who are embarking on shopping tourism will be in search of a completely different experience compared to those who are embarking on tourist shopping.

Shopping tourism vs. tourist shopping

‘Shopping tourism’ essentially refers to those individuals who plan a trip to South Africa with shopping as the primary reason for travel. These individuals usually intend to purchase capital goods (i.e. goods/materials that are used in the production and manufacture of other goods) or items to re-sell for a profit once back in their home country.

‘Tourist shopping’, on the other hand, relates to tourists who partake in the activity of shopping as part of their overall travel experience. They will usually spend their money on luxury or consumer goods for themselves or for their friends and family members.

Why is ‘shopping tourism’ so popular?

Ultimately, ‘shopping tourism’ is huge in South Africa for two reasons. Firstly, those residing in many neighbouring African countries simply do not have access to the scope or general quality of goods available in South Africa. Secondly, many types of capital goods are a lot more affordable here, even when you factor in the cost of travel necessary to obtain them.

Individuals from countries like Lesotho, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Swaziland, and Mozambique tend to venture to South for retail tourism. According to research conducted by Melville and Andrea Saayman, both from the North-West University of South Africa, Zambian and Malawian retail tourists also regularly navigate to South Africa and spend 32% and 40%, respectively, of their travel budgets on goods for resale.

The sad reality is that many of these tourists plan an ‘in and out’ type of excursion in that they arrive in South Africa, quickly find the items that they came to buy, before flying back home again shortly thereafter. This, however, doesn’t have to be the case.

Enhancing experience for ‘retail tourists’

Travel suppliers should work on crafting authentic, enriching experiences that revolve around introducing goal-oriented retail tourists to South African culture and cuisine, but that also seek to educate them on matters that they find interesting, such as tips for starting and nurturing a business, via workshops or motivational talks. It is up to the travel supplier to encourage the retail tourist to get more out of their trip than just the tangible items that attracted them here in the first place.

A great idea is for those suppliers offering sought-after capital goods and goods for resale to partner with other local suppliers in some way. Perhaps the supplier in question could provide each retail tourist with a discount voucher to a workshop or local restaurant, therefore increasing the chances of them exploring a bit before their departure. Travel suppliers could also leverage social media, targeting African businessmen and women, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs with advertisements for special ‘packages’ that involve lower prices on luxury and capital goods in conjunction with authentic African experiences, all at an ‘exclusive’ discount rate.

The key is to get to know this (often overlooked) customer better. Figure out where they are coming from, and why. Figure out how you can positively contribute to their exploits in a way that is affordable and convenient to them. Get creative, collaborate with other travel suppliers, and don’t hesitate to ask for guidance or feedback when these tourists happen to enter your establishment. Going out of your way to provide them with the best possible experience is mutually beneficial, after all!

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