Destinations discover the shopaholic Indian traveller

/ New Delhi
Shopaholic Indian Traveller
Destinations discover the shopaholic Indian traveller

Shopping is one of the major magnets for Indian visitors to European countries, like Spain (pictured above)

Post-pandemic travel around the world has been marked not just by the way the Indian outbound tourism has rebounded, but also by how much more the Indian travellers are spending overseas, especially on shopping. No wonder then that shopping destinations around the world are rolling out the red carpet for the Indian visitors.
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The numbers say it all. An average visitor from India to the United Kingdom spends about GBP 1500 per visit, almost thrice the global average for UK. Indians are the third highest spenders in the United States and Indian shoppers are the fifth largest cohort at Vallée Village, a chic, open-air shopping outlet near Paris, that is part of Bicester Collection, a group of shopping outlets owned by Value Retail.

Shopping while travelling is perhaps a global phenomenon as most tourists do like to take at least a souvenir back from the places that they visit, but for a few countries, shopping often becomes the centrepiece of the entire visit. And from this aspect here, there is perhaps nothing to rival the Indian travellers, many of whom have a voracious appetite which seems to have become even bigger in the post-pandemic era.

A voracious appetite

Indeed, ever since international travel resumed in 2022, after the Covid-19 pandemic, two phenomena have marked the revival. First, the astounding growth in the number of Indians who have begun travelling overseas, which not only rapidly grew to the 2019 levels, but also clearly surpassed it since, as over 29 million Indians took to the skies to head to another country.

The second phenomenon observed since the end of pandemic is the amount of money being spent by Indian travellers on their overseas visits.

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

Shopping while travelling is perhaps a global phenomenon as most tourists do like to take at least a souvenir back from the places that they visit

According to Euromonitor, a London-based market research firm, outbound tourism from India is estimated to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11.3 pc in value terms, largely on the back of rising disposable income, better international airline connectivity and more streamlined visa processes.

“In terms of spending by Indian overseas travellers, close to 19.3 pc of overall outbound spending is undertaken on shopping inclusive of both retail shopping and duty-free shopping and the same is projected to account for 22 pc by 2028 driven by strong consumer interest in selection of travel destination basis shopping as a feature with robust demand for beauty and personal accessories products,’’ Abhay Prakash Singh, Research Analyst at Euromonitor International tells India Outbound.

Singh adds that post-pandemic, Indian travellers are looking out for value for money experiential trips with destination features such as safe destination, nature and outdoor activities, relaxation, and family-friendly being top of the mind while selecting travel destination. And here, according to Singh, the neighbouring countries have a clear upper hand.

“Closer geographical proximity coupled with relatively economical travel trip costs allowed Asia Pacific region to witness the fastest growth in value terms for outbound spend by Indian travellers in 2023,’’ adds Singh.

On the ground, the travel agents have more or less the same feedback to provide on the critical role played by shopping in an overseas travel expedition. Aseem Hattangadi is the founder of Travel Therapist, a boutique travel firm based in Mumbai. “Shopping plays an integral part for my clients when they travel as now more often than never, travellers want to get back a piece of the destination to remind them of their memorable trip that they had and reminisce over the good times. It could be as simple as a fridge magnet, a small statue, a curio or a souvenir or something like clothes or cooking ingredients to recreate flavours of something that they liked,’’ Hattangadi tells India Outbound.

He adds that the most popular shopping destinations for his clients range from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Singapore in Asia to Spain and Italy, besides Kenya and the Middle East.

For shopping destinations and outlets, the feedback provided by the travel agents plays a crucial role in helping generate traffic as clients often turn to the travel agent for getting an idea of the shopping opportunities during the travel.

“Some of them ask me, but mostly I go all out and tell them where to go and specifically what to shop for based on combination of what they are looking for or heard of as well as what they should not miss out on,” adds Hattangadi.

Indeed, for many decades, Singapore and Dubai, both short-haul distances from India and very well connected with various cities across India, had been synonymous not just with overseas travel from India, but also with shopping overseas. Despite the Indian travellers opening up the entire world, the two destinations remain fairly high on their list.

Singapore: Continuously reinventing itself

Renjie Wong, Area Director, India, South Asia & Middle East of Singapore Tourism Board (STB), says that shopping has emerged as one of the key drivers that make Singapore a top-choice destination. With a rich retail landscape, there are areas that offer premier shopping experiences amidst cultural landmarks, lively street activities, and dazzling architecture. He adds that the country has observed a spike in shopping spends by Indian visitors.

STB also recognises that shopping has grown into a prime travel motivation for tourists. We observed a growth towards shopping spends by 26 pc in H1 2022, showcasing the affinity of Indian travellers towards exploring Singapore as a vibrant retail destination. In order to meaningfully connect with diverse segments of travellers, the STB has implemented a range of compelling initiatives, offering them a glimpse of what Singapore has to offer,’’ Wong tells India Outbound.

Wong says that in terms of shopping hotspots Orchard Road, Bugis Street, and Little India are some of the most popular spots among Indian visitors, and there are also some unique homegrown Singaporean labels that present the best of Singapore’s passion, culture, and art. “Design Orchard, for instance, is an integrated retail and incubation space that showcases Singapore’s designers and their creative spaces. Supermama is another shopping spot where tourists can purchase contemporary pieces that reimage traditional Singaporean motifs through highly collectible ceramics and designware,’’ he adds

India remains a key source market for Singapore and in 2023, the City-State received 1.07 million Indian travellers, making India one of its top four source markets. Wong says that ease of travel to Singapore from practically anywhere is one of the main factors.

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

India remains a focus for Singapore and in 2023, the City-State received 1.07 million Indian travellers, making the country one of its top four source markets

‘‘With direct flight connections from 17 cities across India, a flight time of as little as 3.5 hours and a hassle-free visa process, it is very easy for Indian travellers to visit and enjoy the city. Besides the close proximity between the two countries, Singapore also appeals to Indian travellers due to its diverse lifestyle experiences and world-class offerings, making it a preferred choice for those seeking an extraordinary holiday and an exceptional shopping experience,’’ he adds.

Wong adds that STB has launched promotions and activities to enhance the experience of shopping for Indian visitors.

To inspire travel to Singapore, STB has actively driven strategic partnerships to introduce Indian travellers to Singapore’s vibrant retail scene, such as Nykaaland, India’s first beauty and lifestyle festival, where STB curated a unique pop-up featuring three ‘Made With Passion Brands’ at Nykaaland. The aim of this collaboration was to showcase Singapore’s achievements in fashion, skincare, and wellness innovation and provide Indian consumers with an opportunity to explore and experience brands that are truly ‘Made In Singapore,’’ he adds.

Though not as well-known or well-travelled from India as Singapore, South Korea, too, is eyeing a piece of the Indian pie. Myong Kil Yun, Regional Director, India & SAARC Countries, Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) is banking on the immense popularity of Korean culture, notably K-pop and K-dramas, that have become a rage in many countries, including India.

“The rising popularity of Korean culture and entertainment, driven by K-pop and K-dramas, has further helped influence Indian travellers’ shopping preferences, leading them to seek out merchandise related to their favourite stars or brands. The rise of online platforms has made Korean products even more accessible to Indian shoppers, influencing their choices and potentially leading to online purchases alongside physical shopping sprees when visiting the destination,’’ Kil Yun tells India Outbound.

“Trendsetting styles and K-beauty’s innovative products resonate deeply with Indian travellers. We are observing a tremendous growing interest in Korean fashion, food items, skincare products, and entertainment merchandise. Indian tourist arrivals have been steadily increasing thereby translating into increased overall spending, including shopping. The popularity of duty-free shopping in Korea, particularly at Incheon Airport, also attracts many Indian tourists seeking deals on luxury goods and electronics,’’ he adds.

Kil Yun also dispels notions that shopping in Korea would necessarily be an expensive proposition. “The trendy and affordable styles of Korean clothing along with the innovative and effective Korean skincare and makeup products are a major draw for Indian travellers. The K-drama craze extends to food, with tourists seeking authentic Korean tastes. Indians enjoy exploring Korean cuisine and often bring back snacks, instant noodles, and traditional condiments as souvenirs,’’ he says.

While Asian nations remain strong magnets for Indian visitors seeking some value for money shopping experiences, one of the regions that has stood out in the post-pandemic recovery, in terms of tourism from India, is the Middle East.

Dubai: Duty-free delights

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

Indian visitors to Dubai continue to make a beeline for the famous shopping malls of Dubai

While there is strong anecdotal information to connect the dots between India and the Middle East, notably the Gulf States, Euromonitor data spells it out loud and clear.

“Interestingly, prior to pandemic in the year of 2019, Asia Pacific region held the biggest share of outbound spending by Indian travellers. However, in 2023, Middle East and Africa region dominated, with close to one-third share in overall outbound spending by Indians. The steady growth of employed population in India has further empowered larger segment of population to indulge in aspirational international trips, benefiting countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, USA, Singapore which were amongst the top five destinations visited by overseas travellers from India,’’ says Singh of Euromonitor.

Bader Ali Habib, Head of Proximity Markets, Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism confirms Singh’s assertions.

“Shopping is the one that really put us on the map for Indians, with the Dubai Shopping Festival being launched in the early mid 1990s. That is when Indians did not have access to brands. They would look at Dubai as a destination to come and shop,’’ Habib tells India Outbound.

Over the years, even as access to international brands has increased multi-fold in back home, Indian visitors to Dubai continue to make a beeline for the famous shopping malls of Dubai.

‘‘Today, the most visited place in Dubai is the Dubai Mall. Everybody coming to Dubai wants to visit the Dubai Mall. So what we have done is that we have built a mall and we have built tourism experiences around it at a walking distance. So shopping would always be at the forefront, whether that is luxury, or street shopping, or even casual shopping,’’ Habib adds.

It helps that the local climatic conditions have led the residents of entire GCC region to treat shopping malls as a place for much more than just shopping.

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

Indians are increasingly turning to high-end shopping malls like this one in Madrid

Habib says that the number of Indian visitors to Dubai looking for shopping experiences continues to rise. “More and more Indians are looking at Dubai for shopping, whether that’s Dubai Shopping Festival or otherwise. We do believe that we will continue to attract more Indians coming for shopping as throughout the year we also run discounts. We make sure that throughout the calendar majority of the months have certain shopping deals that continue to attract Indians,’’ says Habib.

Despite the very high level of awareness in India about Dubai as a shopping paradise, Habib is not taking any chances and engaging with the travel trade to spread the word further.

‘‘We want the trade to know is that they can be smarter with the way they position it for the audiences. So when I speak to travel partners, I tell them that whenever you have your cleints coming, make sure you check what is happening in Dubai. There are so many things going on in Dubai that really can be picked and it could be sold to them separately rather than just hotels and attractions,” says Habib.

Rarely is a visit to Dubai or for that matter any other global destination complete without the mandatory last-minute with USD 266 shopping in the airport duty-free areas. And being the largest source market for Dubai, it hardly came as a surprise when Dubai Duty Free released details of its performance in 2023.

According to a press note, in terms of top source markets for Dubai Duty Free sales, India ranked first with USD 266 million sales, taking over 12.3 pc share of all purchases made in the duty-free areas. India was followed by Russia at USD 208 million, while China was the third largest with USD 154 million, followed by Saudi Arabia at USD 140 million, and the UK in fifth place with sales of USD 102 million.

Old Continent keeps pace

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

According to Euromonitor, of the top five countries where non-residents spent the highest amounts in shopping, two were European nations, Spain and France (pictured above)

But it is not just the Middle East and Asia Pacific region that Indian tourists flock to for their shopping binges. Some of the traditional hot favourites, and which remain highly relevant today, lie in Europe and even across the Atlantic. According to Euromonitor, of the top five countries where non-residents spent the highest amounts in shopping, two were European nations, Spain and France and of course, both of them covet Indian tourists highly.

Elisa Robles Fraga, Director of Spain Tourism Board in India underlines the importance of shopping by tourists as being key not just to Spanish tourism industry, but to the entire economy and outlines the vast choice that visitors have for shopping in the country.

“Spain boasts a rich tapestry of shopping experiences ranging from bustling markets to luxury boutiques. Key attractions for shopping in Spain include iconic destinations like Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia and Madrid’s Gran Vía, Calle Serrano and Galeria Canalejas, where visitors can find a blend of international brands and Spanish brands like Loewe, Zara, Massimo Dutti, Mango, as well as local artisanal products. Spain is renowned for its vibrant street markets such as El Rastro in Madrid, la Plaza Redonda Market in Valencia, the Flower Market in Bilbao and La Boqueria in Barcelona, offering a unique shopping experience infused with local culture and flavours,’’ Fraga tells India Outbound.

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

France is also highly focussed on shopping by Indian tourists

Fraga says that the tourism board is constantly on the lookout for promoting the aspect of shopping in Spain amongst Indian travellers. “We actively collaborate with travel agencies, tour operators, and media outlets in India to highlight the diverse shopping opportunities available in Spain. Through social media campaigns and participation in travel exhibitions and roadshows, we aim to showcase Spain as a premier shopping destination for Indian travellers. We also facilitate familiarisation trips for travel agents and journalists to experience first-hand shopping delights Spain has to offer,’’ says Fraga.

Spain’s neighbour, and in many ways, arch-rival for the top slot as the world’s most visited country, France is also highly focussed on shopping by Indian tourists.

Sheetal Munshaw, Director of Indian office of the French tourism promotion agency Atout France, has been proactively engaged in promoting shopping in France, notably in Paris, through several activities. She says that France has always been associated with iconic brands which have made shopping a key activity for any visitor.

“Indians are avid shoppers and shopping forms an integral part of every travel itinerary to France. From gourmet and beverage shopping to apparel, accessories, fragrances, artisanal souvenirs and beyond, our Indian travellers have a comprehensive wish list when it comes to shopping in France. Paris ranks as a top favourite for shopaholics and fashionistas alike. Its plethora of shopping options ranging from malls, chic shopping boutiques, artisanal options make for a diverse array of options. In addition, travellers also tend to pick up artisanal products from the regions they visit in addition to Paris. Not to mention the VAT refund is an added attraction as are the summer and winter sales. Needless to say Paris being associated seamlessly with iconic brands that incarnate the French art de vivre makes it an evident choice for discerning fashionistas, gourmands and oenologists alike,’’ Munshaw tells India Outbound.

Accordingly, Atout France has launched several campaigns in India to promote the country as a shopping destination. “We work in close collaboration with travel and lifestyle influencers to showcase shopping offers either through events or campaigns on their platforms or even organising experiences for them in the stores while in France,’’ says Munshaw.

Besides online campaigns, Atout France has also mounted several physical events in India, notably in Mumbai positioning high-end shopping experiences in France.

“Alongside our partners, we have also participated in luxury consumer showcases such as the Ajio Luxe Weekend and have organised events within the scope of the showcase for brand visibility. We have also organised exclusive B2B and B2C events for our partners. In 2022, to announce the reopening of borders and travel to France, we organised a sundowner onboard a yacht with La Vallée Village targeted to influencers around a theme which resulted in a good visibility for Destination France and our partner through the social media handles of the influencers,’’ she says.

Across the border from France, another country that is keenly propelling itself as a shopping destination is Germany. Though not many may know it, but Germany offers a wide diversity of shopping experiences, from boutique stores and upscale shopping malls right down to dedicated shopping villages that cover several acres of land, near major tourist hubs.

According to German National Tourist Office India, the key source markets in terms of overseas shoppers for Germany, include China, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. ‘‘Indian travellers are also a part of this mix, contributing to overseas shoppers in Germany,’’ Romit Theophilus, Director, Marketing and Sales Office, India, GNTO tells India Outbound.

“Shopping is an important activity for Germany as a travel destination. It is also one of the most popular activities by the Indian traveller. Diverse brands, great quality, attractive deals and no duty make shopping abroad an appealing proposition for Indians. Luxury labels, vintage, jumble sales, pretty accessories, or young designer fashion, the German cities and streets Indian travellers will find what they are looking for. Some key attractions for shopping include luxury retail outlets in cities like Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, as well as famous shopping streets like Kurfürstendamm in Berlin and Zeil in Frankfurt,’’ adds Theophilus.

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

GNTO India has undertaken various promotional activities to promote shopping by Indians in Germany

He says that the combination of shopping experience and the surrounding area also makes the German villages particularly beautiful excursion destinations. ‘‘Close to the banking metropolis of Frankfurt is Wertheim Village, which is in the middle of the picturesque Taubertal wine region. Ingolstadt Village is located near the Bavarian capital, Munich, Metzingen is in Southwest Germany closer to Stuttgart and lastly Hamburg and Berlin, the railway stations in the two biggest German cities are home to some of the most significant station shopping centres in Europe,’’ Theophilus adds.

GNTO India has undertaken various promotional activities to promote shopping by Indians in Germany. ‘‘Together with our partners, we provide information about current offers and programs in Germany as a travel destination which also includes shopping with a focus on creating trust and visibility by indulging in one-on-one sales meet across India, digital and social media activities and much more,’’ Theophilus says.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, for the United States, too, Indian travellers are increasingly important, and more so for New York City, the primary gateway from India into the country. For an overwhelming proportion of Indian visitors to NYC, shopping is a significant activity.

‘‘It is a tremendous opportunity to have visitors from India for the shopping experience in New York City. So 82 pc of the Indian travellers engage in shopping when they visit New York City. So that’s really up there in terms of the top activities, while they are travelling to New York City,’’ Makiko Matsuda Healy, Senior Vice President, Tourism Market Development, New York City Tourism + Coventions tells India Outbound.

shopping tourism

For an overwhelming proportion of Indian visitors to NYC, shopping is a significant activity

She adds that another key factor about the Indian visitors is that they stay much longer and hence they spend much more time than many other visitors.

“Another point of the Indian market is, they stay long and it is getting longer, about 11 days. The spend per person per trip is USD 2200, which is more than the pre-pandemic level. So it is a tremendous opportunity and in New York City there are luxury shopping opportunities on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. Moreover, the iconic flagship store of Tiffany’s has recently reopened after a comprehensive renovation that lasted four years. It is called Landmark now,’’ she adds.

Matsuda Healy says that the renovated Tiffany’s now offers exclusive dining options, too.

“Tiffany’s now has not just shopping but also dining at the Blue Box Cafe and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You can literally experience that. So there are lots of unique shopping opportunities,’’ she says.

Shopping outlets join the race

It is not just the destinations that are keenly wooing Indian shoppers, many shopping centres, department stores and dedicated shopping complexes have also begun their own outreach in India.

One such location is Outletcity Metzingen, about 30 km south of the German city of Stuttgart, most famously known as the home to iconic German automotive firm Mercedes Benz. Outletcity has outlets of over 170 top brands which are sold at a hefty discount throughout the year.

“The year 2023 was a strong year for Outletcity Metzingen, especially in the second half as travel restrictions eased. We saw large growth in international visitors, with key source markets outside Europe being India, China and the Gulf region. India is an important market for Outletcity Metzingen with significant potential. We recognise the fast growing interest from Indian travellers in luxury brands at outlet prices and a unique shopping experience. Post-Covid we have already seen a significant increase in Indian guests visiting the Outletcity,’’ Angela Rieger, Senior International Partnership Manager at Outletcity Metzingen, tells India Outbound.

Rieger adds that the number of Indian visitors to Outletcity Metzingen has significantly increased over the past three years, with a strong upward trend observed compared to 2022. “This rising number demonstrates the growing interest of Indian travellers in luxury brands and outlet shopping,’’ she says.

With rising traffic from India, Outletcity Metzingen has been increasingly involved in developing the Indian market further. “We actively engage in several initiatives to attract and cater to this growing audience. Building strong partnerships with Indian travel agencies allows us to craft tailored travel packages and engaging marketing activities that resonate with Indian tourists. We actively participate in exhibitions and roadshows within India, ensuring our presence in the market and capturing attention. Additionally, we advertise in print and online media specifically targetted towards Indian audiences, keeping them informed about the unique shopping experience we offer. Our multilingual staff ensures Indian visitors feel welcome and assisted,’’ adds Rieger.

Besides Metzingen, several other private players are also keen to increase their Indian footfall. “Key shopping complexes in Spain have recognised the growing importance of the Indian market and have tailored their offerings to cater to Indian shoppers.

For instance, El Corte Inglés, Spain’s leading department store chain, has made special efforts to attract Indian shoppers. Las Rozas Village in Madrid and La Roca Village in Barcelona, have implemented targetted marketing initiatives to engage with Indian visitors. These shopping villages offer a curated selection of international and Spanish brands, tax-free shopping facilities, and personalised services such as multilingual staff and VIP lounges, ensuring an unforgettable shopping experience for Indian tourists,’’ says Fraga of Spain Tourism Board.

In France, too, the private players have joined the game. “Iconic department stores such as the Galeries Lafayette, Printemps Paris and the chic open-air La Vallée Village are very bullish on the Indian market and have invested in diverse activations to engage with the discerning Indian. Our key shopping partners want to position themselves not just as department stores/open air-villages but also as a holistic experience inclusive of different activations. Our shopping brands offer many varied experiences such as cooking classes, shopping with a personal shopper, fashion shows, wellness experiences to name a few. This is normally the key message that they would want to broadcast to the Indian traveller,’’ says Munshaw of Atout France.

Shop all year around

Shopaholic Indian Traveller

Outletcity has outlets of over 170 top brands which are sold at a hefty discount throughout the year

While the traditional peak season for outbound travel from India continues to be in the summer school breaks in India, but destinations, especially in Europe, say they are receiving Indian shoppers increasingly the whole year.

“More and more Indians are indulging in shopping escapades. We have travellers taking off to Paris around the sales that take place in January and June. Indians are keen to discover local brands and there is an increase in demand for artisanal products distinctive of the French savoir-faire. In addition to indulgent shopping, Indians are also open to visiting local markets in different regions and picking up regional specialties for example, lavender products from Provence or mustard from Dijon or even Lyon’s specialty silk scarves or other products,’’ says Munshaw.

Fraga too says that shopping is becoming an all-year activity. “Indian tourists, particularly those travelling during the peak vacation months of April and May, are inclined towards indulging in shopping experiences while exploring Spain. Travellers often seek unique gifts and souvenirs to commemorate their trip during these months. Additionally, Indian shoppers are drawn to Spain during key sales periods such as the summer and winter sales, offering excellent opportunities to purchase designer goods and luxury items at heavily discounted prices,’’ says Fraga.

The rise in spending by Indian visitors overseas is not a flash in the pan, says Euromonitor, pointing at the rapid rise in the Middle Class, with adequate disposable income and a growing taste for spending money on discretionary products and services.

“Looking ahead, surge in awareness of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and the subsequent high likelihood of increased online travel aggregators hopping on the same to provide a unique and innovative booking experience to consumers holds the potential to revolutionise travel booking. As consumers in India express their desire to increase spending on travel, the industry is set for healthy growth in coming years,’’ says Singh of Euromonitor, in what would certainly be music to the ears of the destinations and shopping centres alike.

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