Tourism today constitutes a very common activity and one of the most profitable industries of the global economy of countries. The World Tourism Organization –UNWTO-, has defined the term as “the conjunct of activities done by people during their travels and stays in places different from their usual environment for a consecutive period of time lower than a year for leisure, business or other purposes.”

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

With the expansion of globalization –S XX- the notion of Shopping Tourism has surged after having detected that this activity has been turning into an increasingly important component of the travel experience, whether as the main motivation or as one of the main activities done by tourists in the destinations they travel to.

Hence, the purchasing factor is decisive when it comes to establishing destination promotion strategies.

In general terms it could be said that when a person takes a new trip to a new destination, they will come to encounter elements typical of that new culture they enter in contact with. The tourist will not only want to enjoy the activities and products the visited country offers but will also aim to take a part, given the low cost or high level of exclusivity, or in quality of a souvenir, to gift to loved ones.

But on its first stage, this notion found itself more than anything associated to interest and rising consumption of many tourists in the fashion capitals.

The motor of consumption was directly tied to a desire of differentiation and to scale in terms of social status through the acquisition of those exclusive designs of the commercial industry.

The exclusivity is often connected to the relative inaccessibility of the garments rather than to its varied production.

Nowadays we’re experiencing a revaluation of the natural; handicraft, which starting from the industrial revolution has been replaced by the attractive power of machines, is being reclaimed in a certain way today. This is possibly due to the weariness of the individual regarding the excessive surrounding technology.

According to Lipotevsky: “If the fashions are so extremely fleeting it is because they are so grotesque and unsightly that we cannot tolerate them more than a brief time”

Here the concept of the Cultural Industry developed by the philosophers Adorno and Horckheimer should be introduced through a somewhat pessimistic vision to refer to popular art, characterized by being standardized and produced in series (radio, film, publishing, music), as opposed to the purest artistic form associated with the work of the independent artist (plastic arts , visual, scenic).

In a world where massive industrial production unifies the product offer, consumers search for unique objects with an own identity. But, contrary to what we might guess, artisanal work and cultural industry today are not opposed, just as fashion and art design aren’t either.

Photo by Sarah Vombrack
Photo by Sarah Vombrack

In 1978 the UNESCO declared that: “The Cultural Industries are those that combine creation, production and commercialization of creative contents, those which are intangible and of cultural nature. Within the cultural industries, industries like those of print, editorial, multimedia, audiovisual, phonographic, cinematographic, as well as handicraft and design are generally included.”

“Within the ambit of artisanal production as a part of the cultural industries, some industrialized countries give a lot of importance to handicraft, an example of this can be found in Italy. It’s estimated that in the year 2001 24% of its companies were artisanal, on top of the export of handicraft representing 17% of the GDP.” (Hoyos – “Handicraft and cultural industry”)

Crafts should be accommodated within the commercial industry, just as design did at the time, without losing its intrinsic values. Due to its natural characteristics, artisanal production of a territory is in great demand, but it needs to be taken into account that the latter will not be effectively covered if it does not resort to new techniques that allow crafts to improve and multiply.

This does not imply a serial production, otherwise the essence of the production would be lost, but the incorporation of novel techniques to achieve better results; it is therefore about exploiting the traditional, adjusting it to the framework of current reality.

According to the researcher Hoyos: “The activity of the artisan is economically and technically characterized by the individuality of the work, with its own identity, when producing the good or service, compared to the serial character of industrial productions.”

He adds: “Without a doubt the artisanal sector is not only representative of our cultural identity but also becomes the fundamental axis for economies in development.”

The researcher points out that “when analyzing and regulating artisanal activity, one would have to focus not so much on what happens in the market economies, on the obtainment of benefit, but one would have to look for the artisanal company modernizing itself, adapting itself to new technologies without losing the authenticity and values which these works bring.” (Extract from “Handicraft and cultural industry”)

The journalist and cultural activist Katherine Porter was interested in the indigenous crafts of Mexico and considered that “to create advantage it’s necessary to perceive the new forms of competence, on top of assuming risks and making inversions to put them into practice. In this way, the competitive advantage originates in the way companies organize and carry out discrete activities.”

A good strategy for economic development lies in the construction of a competitive advantage.

Espinosa, specialist in marketing and business strategies, explains in his article “Competitive Advantage: What is it, Keys, Types and Examples”, the two main groups based on which the competitive advantage can be set:

  • Leadership in costs: The goal is to follow a strategy that allows reducing costs without shrinking the quality of the product offered. In this case the company manages to obtain lower production costs than its competitors to be able to offer the lowest price on the market. There always exist and will exist clients whose main variable of purchase decision is the most economic price, overshadowing other attributes such as quality or service.
  • Differentiation: Having characteristics that the competing products don’t possess allows increasing the sales price, obviously whenever they are appreciated and valued by the clients. Adding unique characteristics to our products will be no use when there are no clients willing to pay for them.

Maybe the advantage artisanal products of a country have is, at least potentially, double, as they offer exclusive objects, culturally differentiated from others, and additionally the costs of material are relatively low due do them usually being extracted from the same territory.

Tourist activity is highly connected to the urban area, due to this uniting the widest variety of cultural and commercial offers. On top of the typical local shops, the traveller will want to visit the shopping centres of the place.

It has been detected that the product types today’s travellers look to buy are mainly related to fashion and technology.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

If the average tourist is interested in fashion, it would be advisable for the shops to bet on the production of objects that fall into that category and that, due to being associated with a determined cultural identity, they be visualized as authentic and exclusive.

On the other hand, if the interest for technology is of such magnitude, on top of selling standard technological products in shopping centres, technology and the cultural offer could be incorporated to make it more attractive, for example investing capital in technological gadgets to be used in museums and other cultural establishments.

One should also make use of technological tools regarding production or promotion of cultural elements.

Nonetheless, it’s important to highlight that the predominance of the urban area in tourist development should not relegate the rural zone, with its extensive richness and potential, to the second rate.

The rural area can participate in the tourist phenomenon even when it doesn’t position itself as a tourist destination in itself. An example of this would be its livestock activity, whose production is sold in the urban zone, as a part of a typical dish of the country. The gastronomic industry of the big city will be enriched at the expense of those foreigners who want to try their typical dish, and in turn the rural area will benefit equally.

The same occurs with wool production; this can supply both local and urban artisans in the creation of clothing and crafts with this material.

Another option would be setting up a tourist establishment, making use of the unique purity of its land, but they may not have the capital to do this or hesitate due to not having certainty about the profitability of the business. Will tourists come here? How will they do it? Will the know about our existence?, these are some of the questions that may arise regarding this.

The message of the maximum responsible of the UNWTO in relation to Shopping Tourism is that, above all, “the public organs have to work hand in hand with the private companies to reach success in the campaigns of promotion or creation of Shopping tourist destinations.”

The fusion of public and private agents translates into a joint cooperation with the purpose of reaching the sustainable development of the country through tourist activity.

In this sense, and following the example given previously:

– Some investor, or the state itself, could offer to finance the work.

– Travel agents could inform clients about the establishment and its services.

– Authorities could take charge of some transport medium taking them there, and of promoting the destination on every opportunity they find.

– Tourist guides could include visiting these places in their route.

– The owner of the establishment could get in contact with other companies with the purpose of making benefit agreements for both; for example the inclusion of products of one in the local of the other, whether for the use or for sale to tourists.

Author: member of World Shopping Tourism Network