Setting your sights overseas: top tips to attract the international shopper during 2019

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 40m for the first time this year, while foreign spending is expected to reach a record £27bn in 20181.

Shopping mall

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% spike in foreign card spending immediately following the EU referendum 2. Sterling’s fall means that 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 is a huge opportunity for businesses of all sizes. While independent shops, restaurants and hotels might not be able to compete with the ‘big boys’ on product range and price, they can look to differentiate themselves by offering a tailored, personal service that sets them apart from larger rivals.

When thinking about planning for 2019, here are some top tips for small business 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 revellers ring in the year up and down the country and  foreign card transactions during previous Golden Weeks revealed spending on Chinese cards surges by 40% for UK retailers, while bars and restaurants saw Chinese spending increase by 51%3.

But these festivities are not the only boost to spending. The summer and shoulder seasons alike are ripe with opportunity. For example, the Eid al-Fitr festival sees an influx of Middle Eastern tourists, with visitors from the regions spending 59%4 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.

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% of Chinese tourists would use mobile payment overseas if given the option5. 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.

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.


2Analysis of non-UK card transactions processed by Worldpay in December 2016 compared to the same period in 2015

3Analysis of Chinese card transactions processed by Worldpay in Chinese New Year 2016 compared to average for that time of year

4Analysis of Middle Eastern card transactions processed by Worldpay during Eid week (24th – 30th June 2017) compared to an average week (10th – 16th June 2017)