Retail Tourism: How to Stand Out in a Tourist Destination and Attract Foot Traffic

Retail tourism | Shopify Retail blog

I travel a fair amount. One of my favorite things about traveling is getting the chance to visit new retail shops and seeing how merchants around the world are crafting retail experiences. These are experiences are sometimes great, sometimes not. Sometimes memorable, sometimes forgettable.

But they all had one thing in common: They got me in the door.

Travelers are different from the average shopper. They have different circumstances and needs. And oftentimes, they discover retail stores by chance. Maybe they pass by your shop while on the walk to a tour, or they visit while killing time waiting for a table at the restaurant next door.

You’re confident that tourists will love your wares, but you’re looking for ways to stand out. From visual merchandising tricks to media outreach plans, let’s examine how you can differentiate your store and drive foot traffic in a tourist destination.

Offer In-Store Events

The retail industry is abuzz about creating a great customer experience, and if you’re in a tourist destination, you have the opportunity to craft an experience that becomes a part of the overall trip.

Boulder, Colorado’s Pearl Street is a pedestrian street littered with restaurants, bars, breweries, shops, and buskers. With lots of people comes lots of competition on this busy strip. Patagonia has in-store screenings of outdoor films and documentaries, while Lululemon hosts free daily yoga classes a few blocks away. Both of these offerings are close to the “Boulder experience,” an area known for enjoying the outdoors and wellness.

But you don’t have to have events that are ingrained in the local culture. The Chocolate Cafe in Cannon Beach, Oregon, has in-store events that are focused on their products. Regular truffle-making classes and tasting workshops lure in tourists and offer them an unforgettable experience.

Acclimate Visitors to Your Destination

There’s one thing that almost every traveler will appreciate: local knowledge. And in many cases, this is something you can offer at no cost to you. Consider offering free maps or using local materials in your products, and then educate shoppers about those materials. Some stores go as far as offering complimentary walking tours.

The Clark Store in Clark, Colorado is located near parks and lakes that many travel to, especially in the summer and winter. Not only do they sell trail maps, but the employees have a wealth of local knowledge and recommendations that they’re more than willing to share.

Spruce Up the Outside

South of the Border billboard | Shopify Retail blog
Image: Matchmaker Logistics

If you’ve ever driven long distances, particularly in the south, you’ve seen the South of the Border billboards. While they might be annoying, they’re effective. I remember nagging my parents to stop when I was a kid on our road trips from New Jersey to Florida. It was always crowded.

You don’t need to set up a series of billboards along the highway to make your mark; you can also leverage window displays to make your store appealing to passersby. I was recently having dinner at and chatting with the owner of the Golden Eagle Inn in Beaver Creek, Colorado. He told me that just having nice, inviting flowers is often enough to get those on foot to pop into their location.

Exquisito Chocolates, located in Miami, Florida, is a top tourist destination of Little Havana and took things a bit further. To stand out from the crowd, they’ve painted the outside of the building with a bright color, including a simple phrase and graphic to help potential shoppers spot them. It reads, “We Make Chocolate 🍫”

FURTHER READING: Learn how to create window displays that turn heads and drive foot traffic.

Befriend Media

Ever see those Thrillist videos that get millions of views and feature local restaurants? Some of those videos make dishes so irresistible that I’d be willing to travel just for the food — the destination is just an added bonus.

While you may not be in the food business, getting media backing behind your business can do wonders to build buzz and awareness. Look to not only national outlets but also local coverage.

Melissa Benhaim, chief marketing and tasting officer of Exquisito Chocolates, recommends making friends with local media as well.

“When The Miami Herald did a write-up on [founder Carolina Quijano] and the chocolate factory opening, we really saw the power of PR in action, as numerous people came in after that saying they read about us in the newspaper,” she says. “Quijano made an effort to cultivate relationships with local media, and the great coverage from that has helped draw awareness to the business among both locals and tourists.”

FURTHER READING:Learn more about the art of PR and reputation management for retailers.

But it’s not only the media you want to consider. There may be travel bloggers or influencers in your area, as well as local websites that serve as guides for visitors.

Let’s say you operate a brick-and-mortar shop in the Outer Banks, a popular beach vacation spot in North Carolina. You may want to pitch your store to be added to this shopping guide, this article, and this directory. Do some searches around “shopping in X” to find what pops up on the first page and focus your efforts there.

FURTHER READING:Increase your store’s online and offline traffic with Google’s ‘near me’ results.

Provide Services That Travelers Need

About a month ago, I had some visitors to Colorado. We took them to the mountain town of Crested Butte, which sits at nearly 9,000 feet above sea level. We were having dinner when one of my guests felt the effects of the altitude. Lucky for us, Sea Level Spa was right across the street.

Where Sea Level Spa has found success is in anticipating tourists’ needs and offering both products and services that cater to those needs. Bozeman Family Fly Shop in Montana both sells and rents gear for customers, as well as offering a selection of free and paid classes for all skill levels.

In Germany, raw milk vending machines are popping up. Though they’ve not been instituted by retail stores, a shop that sells baby products could consider something similar.

International travelers may also have payment needs, and though not exactly a service, providing alternative ways to pay for a purchase makes the transaction easier for shoppers. For example, the Besarabsky Market in Kyiv, Ukraine, accepts cryptocurrency, which is especially convenient for tourists because it’s universal.

Moving Forward With Your Retail Store

When you’re in a tourist destination, there’s often plenty of competition with lots of similar products. Using a combination of the tactics above — in-store events, local knowledge, window displays, press coverage or service offerings — will set your store apart and create buzz.

Which tactics do you use to encourage tourists to visit your store? What would you add to this list?