The “shop ‘til you drop” motto is a badge of honor for some people. At MOA, there are tourists who take it to the next level. Some hop on a nonstop flight from London to Minneapolis, drop off their belongings at a hotel, and head directly to Mall of America. There they might spend three to four days taking in the endless shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities. Then they catch a flight to London and start the work week having had the shopping spree of a lifetime. And with no sales tax on clothing and shoes, the trip ends up being an amazing value!
People from all over the world have been putting Mall of America high on their bucket lists since it opened in 1992. In fact, of the 40 million shoppers who visit the Mall annually, 40 percent travel here from beyond a 150-mile radius of the Twin Cities. In addition to those coming from other states and neighboring Canada and Mexico, there is a regular flow of overseas visitors from places like the UK, Japan, France, China and the Nordic countries. Whether or not the exchange rate is in their favor, they still hold the shopping advantage. At Mall of America, they often find better deals than they would at home, on items without sales tax.
MOA’s Senior Director of International Tourism, Doug Killian, noted that it’s not unusual to see Chinese tourists pay thousands for jewelry.
“Buying prestige items is very important to bring back to China to give to friends and family,” said Killian.
Visitors from Iceland also do their Christmas shopping at the Mall.
“People fly six hours from Reykjavik, especially around the holidays, for a long weekend,” Killian added. “They buy so much during those days that the hotel sets aside meeting rooms for all their purchases and reserves an extra shuttle for their trip back to the airport.”
Although MOA’s founders envisioned it as a tourist destination, they may not have predicted the magnitude of success. Of the $1.1 billion annual sales at the Mall, tourists represent about $600 million, spending up to two-and-a-half times as much as a local shopper. So it comes as no surprise that the hospitality business is also booming. In addition to the many hotels around the Mall, it seemed natural to include two on-site hotels—the JW Marriott and Radisson Blu—in the Mall’s most recent expansion. At these hotels, local “stay-cationers” and travelers alike can shop and take advantage of the accessibility and luxurious accommodations.
On the Cutting Edge
Killian knows that staying ahead of the curve is key to bringing in a global stream of visitors. These days, international visitors are looking for immersive experiences like culinary demonstrations, food and wine tastings, scavenger hunts, and behind-the-scenes aquarium tours.
They also place high value on a destination being environmentally responsible. The Mall has made sure it meets these standards, and so have its hotel partners. Both offer premier restaurants that focus on “farm-to-table” menus and use locally sourced ingredients. According to Killian, international visitors are drawn to these assets even more than domestic visitors.
Making Global Guests Feel At Home
The Mall’s tourism team is made up of individuals who understand the needs of foreign visitors. Killian has worked in the industry for 34 years, including four years in Tokyo. Another member of the team is a native of China who advises the two on-site hotels on cultural nuances for Chinese visitors, such as providing slippers and hot pots (for green tea) in the hotel rooms.
The team also works with retailers to help them understand the needs of international travelers. Whether it’s a multi-step process of updating technology to include use of international payment options, or simply knowing that the number 4 is considered unlucky in China, they want to make sure they take the extra steps to make everyone feel at home at Mall of America.