British tourism boost: Three tips to attract the international shopper

British tourism is set to soar this summer. Chris Crang of Worldpay gives his advice on how to cater to international customers.

All the signs are pointing towards a bumper year for British tourism.

According to Visit Britain, overseas visits to the UK are set to pass 40 million for the first time this year, while foreign spending is expected to reach a record £27 billion in 2018. The dip in the value of the pound has undoubtedly contributed to the influx of tourists flocking to UK shores – our own data recorded a 22 per cent spike in foreign card spending immediately following the EU referendum.

Sterling’s value drop means the UK is now a much cheaper destination than it once was, and visitors from Europe, the US, the Middle East and China are all taking advantage.

But while ‘Brand Britain’ appeal has historically benefited well-known luxury labels, including the likes of Burberry and Bentley, small businesses should also be setting their sights on the international shopper. More and more tourists crave authentic and high-quality western products and experiences, meaning there’s a huge opportunity for businesses of all sizes.

While independent shops, restaurants and hotels cannot compete with the ‘big boys’ on product range and price, one thing they can offer is a more friendly, personal service that differentiates them from larger rivals.

With the industry’s busiest season fast approaching, here are some top tips for small businesses looking to ride the tourism wave.

Do your research

While school holidays and bank holiday weekends are peak periods for domestic tourism, you should also get to know the timing and significance of key international festivals and holidays.

Chinese New Year has already hit the headlines this year, as revellers rang in the year of the dog up and down the country. Our analysis of foreign card transactions during previous Golden Weeks revealed spending on Chinese cards surges by 40 per cent for UK retailers, while bars and restaurants saw Chinese spending increase by 51 per cent.

But don’t be disheartened that celebrations for Chinese New Year have already passed. The summer period is ripe with opportunity. For example, the Eid al-Fitr festival sees an influx of Middle Eastern tourists, with visitors from the regions spending 59% per cent more during the annual ‘Ramadan Rush’. Additionally, there is the autumn Golden Week and Diwali festival to look forward to in October, and Hanukkah in December.

Connect with your customer

‘Brand Britain’ may be drawing new customers in, but small businesses need to think globally to truly capture the imaginations of overseas visitors. An international shopper is no ordinary customer, so providing them with the very best shopping experience will help you stand out from the crowd.

Smaller retailers are never going to be able to compete with their larger rivals in terms of range and brand recognition, but tourists recognise and value the friendly and informed experience they get from dealing with independent businesses. In their quest for authenticity, overseas shoppers are more likely to seek advice from staff and request more information about the heritage of your business and its products, compared to home-grown customers.

Technology is making it easier than ever for businesses to deliver a more personal touch, and it’s now readily accessible to every business owner. Arming your store associate with a mobile device gives them the flexibility to assist customers on the shop floor, answering questions and telling the brand story to help secure the sale.

It all comes down to retail best practice: whether your customers hail from home or abroad, treat your customers personally and offer the very best level of service.

Make it pay

Offering a range of international payment methods is an easy way to improve the overall experience for foreign visitors, and make them feel more at home. Recent research by Nielsen and Alipay found over 90 per cent of Chinese tourists would use mobile payment overseas if given the option. Many tourists are reluctant to carry cash these days, and for some, mobile payments are such common practice that they won’t even have a wallet.

Something as simple as upgrading your card terminal to accept mobile payments, and expanding your standard payment methods to include the likes of UnionPay, Diner’s Club and JCB could attract even more international shoppers to your business.

Related: 5 practical tips for retailers to make the best of mobile wallets

It’s now relatively simple and inexpensive for any business to deploy technologies that make life easier for international customers, so the message is clear for UK SMEs: if you haven’t begun already, it’s time to start thinking globally if you want to mine a rich stream of international custom.

Chris Crang is vice president of marketing in UK and Europe for Worldpay

Further reading on customer service

Customer service: Why doing it right is vital to business success

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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