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2003 Shopping & Tourism Report

Executive Summary


With the release of the 2003 Survey of International Air Travelers results produced by the Office of Travel & Tourism Industries (OTTI) in the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Taubman Centers, Inc. and OTTI performed a custom analysis of the special characteristics of overseas travelers who engage in shopping during their visits to the U.S. and enjoy cultural tourism and/or ethnic heritage sites as part of their activities during their trip in the U.S.   Texas A&M University’s Department of Recreation, Park & Tourism Sciences assisted in the analysis for the report.

In developing this study, the Department of Commerce, Office of Travel & Tourism Industries used a custom run of data from the ongoing research program they conduct called the In-Flight Survey of International Air Travelers. This program surveys a monthly sample of international travelers while they are on board the planes after they have visited the U.S.   In 2003, 30,699 travelers responded to the survey. The Office of Travel & Tourism Industries and Texas A&M University analyzed the data from the custom run relative to the respondents’ activities, shopping habits, expenditures, length of stay, traveling companions and accommodations, among other things.

Definitions and Size of the Markets

This report focuses on visitors to the U.S. who participated in shopping and who also selected cultural activities. For the purpose of this study, the following definitions apply:

Overseas and Mexican Air Visitors: Overseas travelers are persons whose residency was outside the U.S. and who visited the U.S. for leisure and/or business purposes, excluding Mexicans and Canadians. Mexican visitors refer to only Mexican travelers who arrived by air. The United States hosted 18,026,000 overseas and 1,359,000 Mexican air visitors in 2003.  

Shoppers: Overseas and Mexican visitors who reported that shopping was one of their trip activities while in the U.S. In 2003, overseas and Mexican Shoppers combined represented 16,822,000, or 87% of the overseas and Mexican air visitors to the U.S.

Cultural Shoppers: Overseas and Mexican air visitors to the U.S. who reported that shopping was one of their trip activities while in the U.S. and who also reported that they engaged in one or more of the following activities:

  • Visited a Cultural Heritage Site
  • Visited an Ethnic Heritage Site
  • Visited at least two of the following:
    • Art Gallery/Museum
    • Concert/Play/Musical
    • American Indian Community
    • Historical Place
    • National Park

In 2003, this represented 5,572,000 travelers, or one in three (33%) overseas and Mexican air visitors.

Overview of all overseas and Mexican Markets

In 2003, the top 11 shopping markets of all overseas and Mexican markets were selected based upon the high incidence of shopping while visiting the United States (in rank order): the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico, Germany , France, South Korea, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Netherlands, and Venezuela. These 11 markets represented 82% of all overseas and Mexican shopping markets in 2003.  

Major Shopping Markets

                                           Top Shopping Markets 2003

                                        (Percentage of Total Who Shopped)

Four specific country markets were selected for in-depth analyses, based upon their high incidence of shopping while visiting the United States: the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico, and Germany. Each of the Shopper and Cultural Shopper segments described above were applied to these country segments so that comparisons could be made between the overall or general visitors from the country, those who shopped, and those who were qualified as Cultural Shoppers. The size of each of these markets was stated in the chart that follows:

                      MAJOR COUNTRY MARKETS





General Visitors










Cultural Shoppers





Of the four countries studied, both general British and Mexican travelers to the U.S. reported increases from 1997. There was a 6% increase in total British visitors, and a 7% increase in British shopper travelers, registering the United Kingdom as the biggest shopping market with 3,519,000 individuals. The United Kingdom represented 22% of total overseas travelers in 2003.

The Japanese market experienced a decline from 1997. In 2003, Japan was replaced by the United Kingdom as the top market, ranking as the second largest country to the United States. However, compared to the other four markets, the Japanese yielded the largest proportion of shoppers, with over 92% reporting shopping activity while in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom with 89%.  

Destinations Visited

Top Five Destinations Visited by Shoppers and Cultural Shoppers 2003

The top five state destinations for the shopping segments as a whole were Florida (23%), New York (23%), California (22%), Hawaii (13%), and Nevada (8%).

Overall Cultural Shoppers exhibited distinctly different patterns, favoring New York as the number one destination at 35%, a 12-point preference margin. California followed at 28% (+6 percentage points higher than the shoppers segment at large), while Florida and Hawaii actually lost ground as destinations for this active traveler segment compared to general Shoppers (-8 and -3 percentage points, respectively).

Nearly 90% of British travelers shopped while in the U.S. There were only minor differences in destinations between all British visitors and British Shoppers. However, there were notable variations between general British travelers and British Cultural Shoppers. Florida was the most popular destination for general British travelers. British Cultural Shoppers, however, like Cultural Shoppers in general, favored New York as their top destination. California followed New York as the second most visited destination by Cultural Shoppers.     

The Hawaiian Islands were by far the most popular destination for general Japanese travelers and Japanese Shoppers; they were visited by 46% of Japanese Shoppers and 47% of Cultural Shoppers to the United States. The Hawaiian Islands and Guam received over 60% of all Japanese travelers and Japanese Shoppers to the U.S. in 2003. The leading mainland destination was California. Japanese Cultural Shoppers, on the other hand, favored New York as a top mainland destination.

For Mexican travelers, California was the favorite destination, visited by 32% of general Mexican visitors and by a slightly higher proportion of Mexican Shoppers (35%) in 2003. Texas was the second most visited destination for general Mexican visitors and Mexican Shoppers, while New York was more favored by Mexican Cultural Shoppers (20%).

New York was the favorite state for all three segments of German visitor s. Those travelers interested in combining shopping with cultural tourism activities selected California as their second top destination. Compared to the 1997 report, New York gained in popularity over California among all German segments as a destination, with an average 5% increase in visitation.

Trip Planning

Advance Trip Decision Time and Advance Airline Reservation Time

Overall, the Cultural Shopper segment made trip decisions further in advance than the average Shopper segment.   Shoppers made their trip decisions an average of 75 days prior to taking their trip. Cultural Shoppers planned over two weeks (90 days on average) further out than the Shoppers. The Shoppers made their airline reservations an average of 50 days in advance, while the Cultural Shoppers arranged them further ahead, more than two months, or 60 days.    

Of all the country markets surveyed in the study, Mexican travelers to the U.S. reported the shortest advance trip decision making across all three segments. Mexican visitors and Mexican Shoppers were similar in their trip decisions, taking slightly over one month, or 33 days, while Mexican Cultural Shoppers took sixteen more days on average. Mexican Shoppers also reported the shortest advance airline reservation.

Of the four countries surveyed, German travelers reported the second longest advance trip decision (88 days), next to British travelers. British Shoppers and Cultural Shoppers took 10 days longer on average than German Shoppers and Cultural Shoppers to make their advance trip decisions. German Cultural Shoppers took at least 2 weeks longer than general German travelers to plan their trips. General overseas shoppers decided only 2.5 months (75 days) ahead of the U.S. visit; German Shoppers required three months (92 days), or 17 days longer, to pre-plan their trips to the U.S.

Reporting an average of 56 days to make advance trip decisions in 2003, Japan still remains among the countries with the shortest trip planning time. The shortest was Venezuela reporting 35 days, with all segments reporting making their airline reservations just over one month ahead of their U.S. trip.

All segments of British travelers planned their trips the most in advance, averaging 109 days, and booking their airline reservations, on average, 85 days in advance. British Cultural Shoppers stretched these averages with the longest advance trip planning time of 115 days.

Information Sources

The use of personal computers saw a dramatic increase as a source of information. Travel agents and personal computers led all segments of visitors as the primary and secondary source of travel information for the four country groups in 2003. For general travelers and the Shopper segments, travel agents were still the leading information source, closely followed by the use of personal computers.

While nearly one half of general overseas travelers and the Mexican and Japanese visitors relied upon travel agents as the key information source, this lead was no longer as clear among British and German markets. Roughly one third of all German and British travelers consulted travel agents in their trip planning process, while another third of German and British travelers used personal computers.

Even as personal computers and direct contact with airlines showed marked increase in use, consulting a travel agency as an information source showed a 30% decrease on average between 1997 and 2003. It was also notable that both British Cultural Shoppers and German Cultural Shoppers were most likely to use personal computers as the primary source for travel information, exceeding the use of travel agents by at least 7%.

Of the countries surveyed, Mexican travelers (34%) reported the highest tendency to use direct contact with airlines in seeking trip information. However, the primary information source of Mexican Shoppers was travel agents (46%).  The prominent information source for trip planning was important for the tourism industry in reaching the specific shopper segments by efficiently orienting resources to market and promote U.S. travel products.

Use of Packages

The travel industry organizes packages in order to efficiently sell U.S. travel services and products overseas. Even though the majority of visitors are coming to the U.S. without a pre-paid package, it was clear that shopping opportunities should be included in promotional offerings and travel arrangements. This was particularly evident for capturing the Shopper segments across all countries.

Overall, the Shopper segments reflected the largest proportion of travelers (20% ) that used a prepaid travel package to visit the U.S. Only German Cultural travelers tended to use a package at a slightly higher proportion than the other segments, possibly explained by their higher use of guided tours.  

Looking more specifically at the country segments revealed that about 40% of all Japanese travelers, regardless of the segment, traveled to the U.S. using a package. One in five (22%) British travelers reportedly used a package for their travel arrangements, and one-fourth (25%) for British Shoppers. Only one in ten Mexican travelers used a package for their trip. German travelers (6%) were the least likely to use a travel package for their trip to the United States.

Of these three country markets, cultural shopper segments tended to take advantage of a package trip at a lower rate. The use of pre-paid packages decreased by 4 percentage points among Shoppers between 1997 and 2003.

First Trip to the U.S.

One in five (22%) overseas Shoppers indicated that this was their first trip to the United States. This rate increased to 27% for all overseas Cultural Shoppers. The largest portion of new-to-market travelers could be found among the Japanese (31%). This might explain why four out of ten Japanese travelers were likely to purchase organized travel packages (compared with 22% of the British, the next highest group who booked a package) and why more than half (52%) of Japanese travelers consulted a travel agent to arrange their trips. Without exception, the most first-time travelers to the U.S. were found among the Cultural Shoppers segment, regardless of their country of origin.  

Average Trips to the U.S. in Last 12 Months

Overall, Cultural Shoppers were more likely to be new-to-market travelers compared to general travelers and Shoppers, registering fewer prior trip experiences (1.5 on average) to the United States in the last 12 months.  

Mexican Shoppers and Mexican Cultural Shoppers were among the most frequent travelers to the United States, having averaged 4.0 visits and 3.6 visits, respectively, in the past 12 months.

German Shoppers reported the second most frequent prior trips with 2.1 visits. The Japanese Shoppers and British Shoppers showed similar prior trip numbers at 1.7 and 1.9 respectively, on average.

Travel Characteristics

Average Party Size

Compared to general travelers, Shoppers and Cultural Shoppers were likely to be accompanied by a spouse, family and/or relatives across all groups surveyed. This contributes to a larger travel party size. British Shoppers recorded the largest average party size with adults and children at 3.9 people. Japanese Shoppers followed at 3.8 people.

While German Shoppers were more likely to travel alone on their visits to the United States (43%), British shoppers were most likely to accompany a spouse (47%) or family and/or relatives (38%) than any other group surveyed.     

Mexican Shoppers also traveled alone (42%), second only to the German Shoppers segment.

Average Nights in the U.S.

Having enjoyed more activities and visited more destinations during their stay, Cultural Shoppers to the United States reported longer stays (at least two more nights) and higher than average spending levels than general travelers and Shoppers.  

Of the countries studied, Germans reported the longest length of stay at 18 days, with German Cultural Shoppers reporting 6 more days. British visitors reported the next longest length of stay at 13 days.

Mexican visitor (9.1 days) and the Japanese (8.8 days) reported the shortest length of stay of the four countries studied. Both of these averages lengthened to 12 or more days for the Cultural Shopper segments.

Japanese Cultural shoppers to the United States stayed four more nights (12 nights on average) than general Shoppers, suggesting a highly lucrative market to develop when coupled with their spending patterns.    

Lodging in the U.S.

At least three-fourths of the overseas travelers from each country segment stayed in a hotel or motel during their trip to the U.S. in 2003. This proportion did not vary significantly by segments within the countries.  

Three in ten British and Mexican visitors (32%) stayed in a private home during their visits, compared with more than nine in ten Japanese travelers (94%) who used a hotel or motel as their choice of lodging.  

Among the four countries, German travelers showed a distinctly higher propensity (with 50% for German Shoppers, and 57% for German Cultural Shoppers) to stay in a private home than any other country segment. German Cultural Shoppers used all types of accommodation at a slightly higher rate.

Number of States and Destinations Visited

Across the four countries surveyed, Cultural Shoppers reported a greater number of states and destinations visited than the general visitors and Shoppers segments. Cultural Shoppers used all types of accommodation at somewhat higher proportions, possibly as a result of the longer stay and more destinations visited in the United States.  

German segments reported the highest number of states and destinations visited, averaging 1.8 states and more than 2.5 destinations. This may be a function of a wider array of activities sought on their U.S. visit, coupled with their longer length of stay. British segments followed German travelers in this category, with 1.4 states and slightly more than 2 destinations. Overall Shoppers averaged 1.5 states and 2.0 destinations visited in 2003. This was a solid indicator that marketing partnerships between destinations could be an effective means of securing these active travelers .

Transportation Used in the U.S.

Partnerships between travel and tourism suppliers would also be an effective technique for securing these active travelers . More than four in ten of British, Japanese, and Mexican travelers who also shopped reportedly used taxi/cab/limousine services during their trip to the U.S. in 2003. No other market surveyed used taxis/cabs/limos more than the Japanese visitors, chosen by at least half of all Japanese segments. Over one third of British, Mexican, and German Shoppers used a rental car.

Cultural Shoppers were more highly active in taking advantage of city subways, trains, and buses than other segments. Use of rail between cities by Mexican Cultural Shoppers was also among the highest recorded by any other overseas market (24%). Overall, these are mobile travelers visiting multiple destinations and using a combination of transportation modes to pursue shopping and cultural tourism activities.

Average Annual Household Income

Of the four markets surveyed, German Shoppers reported the highest average annual household income at $92,900, followed closely by British Shoppers ($92,800) in 2003. Compared to the 1997 study, Germany and the United Kingdom experienced similar positive changes in annual income growth, while the Japanese experienced a decline over the same period.

Travel Behavior

Purpose of Trip

Not surprisingly, while over one fifth (23%) of overall Shoppers visit for business purposes, the highest proportion of the Shoppers (67%) and Cultural Shoppers segments (76%) came to the U.S. for vacation/holiday purposes, including a higher tendency to visit friends and relatives. This pattern was reflected across all four-country segments.

Compared to one third of general German and Mexican travelers visiting for business purposes, a substantial percentage of the Japanese and British visitors and Shoppers (75 - 80%) came to the U.S. for vacation/holiday purposes.

Cultural Shoppers were more likely to be visiting friends and relatives (46%) than general travelers or Shoppers, and the proportion of travelers visiting the U.S. for this purpose saw an increase across the four markets between 1997 and 2003.  

Activities Enjoyed During Trip

As one might expect, Cultural Shoppers engaged in more activities at a higher level than most overseas travelers. In this case, several specific activities were reported by a significantly higher proportion of the Cultural Shopper segment compared to Shoppers overall:

  • Visiting Historical Places (73%) was the top activity overall for the Cultural Shoppers segment, reporting at more than double the level of the Shoppers.  
  • Sightseeing in Cities: Overall, sightseeing in cities was the second most preferred activity reported by Cultural Shoppers (66%). Sightseeing in cities was the top most enjoyed activity by overall Shoppers, and the top tourism activity reported by Japanese Cultural Shoppers.
  • Cultural Heritage Sites: Over 55% of Cultural Shoppers visited a cultural heritage site. Visiting cultural heritage sites was the most preferred tourism activity among British Cultural Shoppers.  
  • Visiting an Art Gallery/Museum: Over 47% of Cultural Shoppers enjoyed visiting an art gallery/museum during their stay in the U.S. Mexican Cultural Shoppers visited art galleries/ museums at a higher proportion than any other country market surveyed (62%). This was their second most sought after activity, next to visiting historical places.
  • Visiting Small Towns: Nearly one-half (46%) of Cultural Shoppers visited small U.S. towns, compared to only 28% reported by the Shoppers segment.  
  • Visiting National Parks: More than double the percentage (44%) of Cultural Shoppers visited a National Park, compared to only 19% of the Shoppers segment. British Cultural Shoppers preferred visiting a National Park (49%), only second to visiting cultural heritage sites during their trip in the U.S.
  • Touring Countryside: More than 40% of Cultural Shoppers reported touring the countryside in the U.S., nearly double the percentage of the Shoppers segment.   

For other activities, amusement/theme parks, attending concerts /plays/musicals, and guided tours were also reported among the popular activities reported by the Cultural Shoppers segment during their stay in the U.S.

Expenditures in the U.S.

German visitors spent the most on their trips to the United States with $1,623 per person per trip, explained by combining their longest trip lengths and a higher level of activity involvement. Japanese Shoppers spent the most per day, averaging $140 per visitor. Mexican Shoppers followed the Japanese, with $134 spent per person per day. This could be a result of their high spending rate on buying gifts and souvenirs. The largest portion of spending in the United States by Japanese and Mexican Shoppers went to buying gifts and souvenirs. For Mexican and Japanese Shoppers, of the total expenditure spent during their stay in the U.S., 30% or more was spent on gifts and souvenirs compared with 19% of German Shoppers. Japanese Cultural Shoppers to the United States stayed four more nights (12 nights on average) than Japanese Shoppers, a likely contribution to their high spending patterns.

The overall Shopper segment spent more on gifts and souvenirs than other segments. Of the four country markets profiled, Japanese ($332) and Mexican ($323) Shoppers spent the most on shopping for gifts and souvenirs.

Both Mexican and Japanese Shopper segments also reported a higher tendency to spend more per person per day in the United States than other country markets studied. It was also noteworthy that Mexican Shoppers were among the most frequent travelers to the United States, having averaged 4.0 prior trips to the United States in the past 12 months.

Payment Method

Use of a credit card was highest among German and Mexican Shoppers. German Shoppers were much more likely to pay for their trip expenditures with credit cards (61%) while reporting the lowest incidence of the use of cash (30%) for trip expenses. Japanese Cultural Shoppers used credit cards and cash in equal proportions (44% each).   Of the four markets evaluated, British Shoppers had the highest proportional use of travelers checks (13%) as their trip payment method. Overall use of travelers checks decreased while use of cash and credit cards increased from 1997 to 2003.

2003 Top Markets for Shopping and Cultural/Heritage Shopping

The custom analysis developed by OTTI was completed for the top 11 shopping markets.   Below is a table of the top 11 markets for Shopping in rank order.   In addition, of the 11 top markets for shopping, an estimate was also developed for Cultural Shoppers as well.   Individual reports on select traveler characteristics related to all of the markets below are available.  





# of Cultural

Overseas *















Mexico (Air) **















Korea ***






























*      Overseas excludes Canada and Mexico
**     Mexico air travelers are not part of the overseas estimate and excludes land and sea visitors from Mexico.  
***    For Korea, two years of data were used to develop the estimates for this market


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