International travel has been remarkably resilient in the post-financial crisis period. In fact, MasterCard research shows that since 2009, international visitor arrivals and spending have grown faster than real global GDP. Despite its size and strong growth, cross-border spending is a challenging area for retailers. When international travelers arrive, many merchants have difficulty recognizing them, anticipating their needs and catering to them. Even worse, most merchants neither recognize the size of the cross-border opportunity nor understand their current share. This is important, since even a 1% share of a leading market such as New York or London is near $200m in annual revenue. As it does with so many retail issues, data can play an important role in gaining share of cross-border spending. Insights into spending and behavioral trends can help retailers understand their current share of wallet and provide the intelligence needed to attract more cross-border dollars.
The International Traveler of Mystery
For those who are successful at attracting the international traveler, the ‘prize’ can be substantial: MasterCard research forecasts that cross-border visitors to the 10 leading destination cities will spend $136 billion during 2014. Narrowing that down to the biggest cities for cross-border spending and the opportunity becomes even clearer. In London, the leading global destination this year, this translates to an average of more than $1,000 per visitor. Average spending is even more impressive for other major travel destinations, such as New York ($1,600) and Taipei ($1,700).
Retailers seeking to gain cross-border sales should consider four approaches to anticipate the arrival and needs of the cross-border customer, to capitalize on the opportunity:
1. Benchmark the Current Competitive Set
Retailers and other types of merchants typically lack data on their share of cross-border spending, and have even less visibility into their share of spending by visitors from specific countries. A first step should be to measure current performance and compare it to that of competitors. In doing that, merchants can gain valuable insights by analyzing key indicators based on recent transactions and determining how they stack up against their competitive set.
2. Leverage Existing Customer Base
After benchmarking competitive performance, retailers can capture a greater share of cross-border spending by analyzing existing customers. As an example, many types of merchants – including airlines, hotel chains and luxury fashion brands – have established relationships with travelers through loyalty programs. Analyzing the spending patterns of frequent traveling members of the program can help identify the merchant types with which members engage most frequently. This may uncover partnership and ancillary revenue opportunities for the brand.
Analyzing the membership of a hotel chain affinity program, for example, may show that affluent customers from certain countries engage frequently with particular luxury industries. Such insights may yield partnership potential as a means of attracting customers from those markets and gaining share of spend while they visit.
3. Understand Spending Habits of Cross-Border Customers
Another strategy to gain share of wallet with international travelers is to analyze past spending activity by international traveler customer segments for predictive insights. As an example, a retailer at a shopping mall in London could see that high-income customers from New York City are likely to have shopped for apparel before they come to the mall. The retailer may also notice that the international traveler segment frequents bookstores at some point after leaving the mall. These insights may help the retailer evaluate partnerships or category expansions.
4. Choose Influential Partners
Cross-border travelers interact with many different travel market participants, including airlines, airport authorities, tourist boards, car rental companies, hotel chains, online travel-related services and banks. These are potential partners to other merchants looking to grow their business with international travelers.
A tourist board, for instance, may wish to attract visitors from certain markets. From some markets, a high proportion of travelers will be affluent, while those from others will be predominantly business travelers. These different cohorts may favor certain types of retailers, restaurants and hotels during their stay. A tourist board will have an interest in connecting the two, both to improve the customer experience of the traveler and to drive business within its region. Insights from spending behavior patterns of travelers from these markets will identify areas of alignment and potential partnership between the tourist board and merchants in its region.
Cross-border spending is growing rapidly and should be of particular interest to retailers in geographies with high penetration of international visitors. With cross-border visitors to the 10 leading destination cities alone forecasted to spend $136 billion during 2014, the opportunity for merchants cannot be ignored and a critical first step is tapping into and understanding the right data and insights.
A version of the article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of the MasterCard Advisors “Compendium.”