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Where Travelers to the Top U.S. Tourist Destinations Eat and Shop 

December 29, 2020 by Reveal Mobile

2020 was the year of C’s: Coronavirus. Covid. Cabin fever. That shut-in feeling gave rise to dreams of traveling, getting in the car or on a plane and heading to some fun, faraway place. And that got us wondering. We know the destinations tourists visit: Disney World, Central Park, Faneuil Hall, the Golden Gate Bridge. But what we wanted to uncover is where tourists eat and shop when they’re traveling to visit the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S. 

So we went ahead and answered the question. Using our massive inventory of privacy compliant precise location data, we ran a report showing which car rental places, quick serve restaurants, department, jewelry and clothing stores tourists shop at. 

To normalize the data, we looked at tourist data from June and July 2019 and the same months in 2020. We compared places tourists go for each period, giving us an index for understanding changes in specific locations’ foot traffic. The destinations we looked at to draw up the report are Disney World, Navy Pier, the White House, Central Park, Kennedy Space Center, Faneuil Hall and Golden Gate State Park. 

For the purposes of the report, we considered anyone who had travelled 100 miles or more to the destination to be a tourist. Everyone else we considered a local and did not include in the report. 

Car Rentals

Fewer people flew in 2020 than did in 2019 — this was also the year of the car trip — so the first place category we looked at is car rental locations. The top two car rental brands for all tourist destinations analyzed are Budget and Hertz. Both saw a drop in foot traffic in the peak summer vacation months of 2020 compared to 2019. Visits to Budget locations fell 15% and visits to Hertz fell 29%. The pandemic proved to be a devastating blow to Hertz, forcing the company to file for bankruptcy. Not all car rental companies suffered equally. The third most visited car rental brand during the summer of 2020 actually saw a 7% rise in their 2020 foot traffic: Enterprise. Leery of air travel, consumers rented cars for leisure and business trips alike, with much of that business going to Enterprise.

QSRs

With tourists cruising along in their premium midsize sedans, they invariably had to stop to eat. Budgets for dining out not being what they were in 2019, tourists to our selected destinations visited Subway and McDonalds more than any other quick serve restaurant in 2020. Both of these mammoth chains gained visits in 2020 compared to the previous year as well. McDonalds foot traffic almost doubled, jumping 91% year over year. Subway’s foot traffic for June and July grew a more modest 25%. The real winner with tourists in the QSR category was Pizza Hut. The third most visited restaurant brand by our tourist population, the Hut saw a 141% increase in visits in the summer of 2020. Rounding out the top five, Chick Fil A’s foot traffic rose 87% and Taco Bell, in fifth place, had a similarly strong jump in visits — 78% from 2019 to 2020.

Big Box Stores, Etc.

When we travel for pleasure, we shop. The two activities go hand in hand. We also tend to shop for goods that we don’t typically shop for in our day to day lives. As with so many things, 2020 was different. In addition to clothing and jewelry stores, our summer tourists also shopped at big box and department stores. This is most likely a result of many people traveling by car instead of air, giving them the opportunity to visit retailers where they could stock up on breakfast food, car games for the kids, and first aid supplies in one stop. 

Where did road trippers shop? Walmart and Target. These stores are easily accessible from interstate highways and have everything a traveling family might need on their trip. Walmart foot traffic rose 213% in 2020 compared to 2019. Visits to Target went up 83%, nearly doubling their foot traffic in 2020. Third on the list of most visited department stores by our tourists is Macy’s. This flagship retailer saw no meaningful change in foot traffic over the two summers. 

As an interesting side note, Publix grocery stores’ foot traffic went up 335% in June and July 2020 compared to the same months in 2019, suggesting more road trippers prepared meals at their house rentals, or they opted to buy prepared foods in lieu of going to restaurants.

While large numbers of tourists saw the insides of Walmart and Target, they also engaged in more typical shopping behavior while away, visiting jewelry stores and clothing stores.

Jewelry

The most visited stores in the jewelry category during the period were Kay, Swarovski and Zales. Kay and Zales saw jumps in their 2020 foot traffic — 24% and 8%, respectively. Both brands have locations at outlet malls, keeping in line with road trip shopping tendencies. Swavorski’s foot traffic fell 45% for the period. Many of their locations are in large shopping malls, which consumers have tended to avoid during the pandemic.

Clothing

As for apparel, the top retail brands tourists visited in June and July of 2020 also reflect places tourists tend to go when traveling by car. First on the list in total foot traffic volume is Sunglass Hut. After all, who doesn’t buy a new pair of sunglasses when out of town? Even at the number one spot, Sunglass Hut’s foot traffic fell 19% in 2020, reflecting the declining visits to shopping malls. Ann Taylor is in second place, and they also saw a drop in visits of 36%. The Express rounds out the top three spots in terms of overall foot traffic. They experienced a 17% drop in visits. All of these declines reflect the fact that apparel retailers have taken a huge hit this year, with sales falling 16.4% across the board. This is actually the steepest decline in sales across all the product categories eMarketer tracks

Two clothing retailers saw an increase in in-store visits among tourists: American Eagle Outfitters at 15% and Victoria’s Secret at 9%. All of the other top clothing stores visited saw tourist foot traffic fall: Polo Ralph Lauren saw an 83% drop; Forever 21’s visits fell 15%; and J.Crew experienced a 31% drop in visits by summer tourists in 2020. For the curious, these trends persisted beyond the summer travel period. In mid-December, Reveal Mobile analyzed how the top clothing stores fared with in-store visits over the 2020 Black Friday weekend.

As 2021 unfolds, tourists will likely return to the skies in greater numbers. This will have a meaningful impact on the retail categories visited as well as foot traffic volumes to specific retailers. Among these shifts in shopping behavior, one thing is fairly certain: Visits to Central Park, Navy Pier, Golden Gate State Park and other top tourist destinations in the U.S. will likely remain strong.

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