European visitors return to enjoy entertainment and shopping in Germany
Analysis of Nets card turnover data from international travelers reveal that European visitors are eager to spend on entertainment and shopping. Popular tourist destinations can expect an influx of visitors and merchants should prepare accordingly, especially by prioritizing digital payment methods.
With relaxed Covid restrictions, merchants in Germany should prepare for a busy summer
With summer just around the corner and tourism season already in full swing, German merchants are likely eager to see how the relaxed Covid travel restrictions affect their business positively.
While the last two years have seen extraordinarily erratic spending patterns and shifts between verticals, there are now solid data indications that we can expect to see a return to familiar pre-Covid activities, both in terms of the number and nationality of visitors and which sectors they will spend their money in.
Nets data on physical purchases made using foreign cards shows that Germany experienced a +56.6 percent total card turnover growth from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022, indicating that international travelers are returning in significant numbers. This puts Germany ahead of Switzerland (+34.2 percent growth in the same period) but behind Austria (+80.9 percent growth).
By comparison, total international card turnover in Germany dropped by -0.6 percent in 2021 compared with 2020, even though the DACH region saw a modest growth in the same period. So, while it appears that Germany was a bit behind the other DACH countries in terms of attracting international visitors after Covid, now that travel and other Covid restrictions have been relaxed, Germany seems to be catching up.
Spending recovers quickly with relaxed Covid restrictions
The rapid return of international visitors and increased spending matches what we have seen in other countries and confirms the expectation that the effects of Covid on the economy are not permanent.
When comparing total card turnover to the Stringency Index published by a research group at the University of Oxford, Nets found a strong correlation between the two, which means that a relaxation in stringency Covid measures result in growth in spending and vice versa.
The stringency index measures Covid restrictions in over 180 countries based on publicly available information on 23 indicators of government response, including school and workplace closures; restrictions on public gatherings; stay-at-home requirements and international travel control.
This analysis corroborates the pattern we are now seeing for Germany. The impact of relaxed restrictions on spending is immediate, indicating that consumers are eager to return to normal and that familiar spending patterns will not take long to recover. It is noteworthy that this pattern is similar in all examined countries, regardless of which restrictions they had in place and when they were lifted.
Visitors return to popular tourist destinations
In 2021, the main card turnover growth from international travelers was concentrated in areas near the German borders such as Köln and Kiel, while cities like Hannover and München experienced negative turnover. This is undoubtedly related to the nationwide Covid restrictions and lockdowns, which were in effect until May 2021. With international travel access to Germany severely restricted, local border shopping contributed to most of the spending from foreign visitors.
The trend we see in Q1 2022 vs. Q1 2021 is that international travelers are once again returning in force to the large German cities and popular tourist attractions. Since Germany is a large, beautiful country with a lot of variation for tourists to enjoy, merchants from all parts of Germany can expect a share of the increased summer spending (see figure 1 for details).
Expect European guests this summer
While plenty of foreign visitors can be expected this summer, they are less likely to have traveled very far.
The card turnover data shows that the main influx of international visitors is from other European countries, within a relatively short travel distance to Germany. The Czech Republic in particular is the only country in Top 5 for both 2020/2021 and in 2022 (see figure 2).
It should also be noted that of the top five countries in terms of Q1 2022 growth, the top three (The Czech Republic, Denmark and the UK) are all non-Euro countries. This means that there is still a need to consider currency conversion as a factor for transactions.
The high representation of European countries fit the pattern from last year, where we also saw see more inter-European travel and fewer long-distance trips. Asian and North American travelers can still be expected, but in smaller numbers than before Covid. Both regions still face significant Covid-related uncertainty and the war in Ukraine affects available travel routes from Asia.
This is likely going to impact both basket size and product demand for merchants. While many Asian tourists traditionally spend a lot on high-end luxury items such as clothes, jewelry, perfume and accessories, European customers typically spend less per individual ticket but have a higher volume of purchases.
Entertainment and luxuries in high demand
The card turnover data trends also clearly show that the European guests will arrive eager to amuse and enjoy themselves.
The numbers for Q1 2021 vs. Q1 2022 shows a clear indication that travelers are now coming to Germany to spend money on entertainment (+805.6 percent growth), hotels (+372.8 percent growth), restaurants & bars (+351.2 percent growth) and clothing & shoes (+281.3 percent growth).
In contrast, the highest international card turnover growth from 2020 to 2021 was mainly in sectors connected with the more essential elements of travel – transportation, lodging and food.
So, it would seem that merchants in the traditional tourist verticals should prepare for a busy season, especially in the entertainment and shopping sectors. For example Czech visitors, beauty and barber shops topped the list of spending categories.
Digital payments and DCC are more important than ever
While pre-Covid spending patterns seem to return in terms of what consumers are buying, we are seeing more permanent changes to how they are paying for their purchases. Covid has accelerated the already widespread transition from cash to digital payment methods, both in areas with high and low penetration of digital payments.
It is clear that in virtually all areas and verticals, the use of digital payments is now considered the default, not the exception. In particular, the use of contactless card payments has increased significantly during Covid, with a 70.2 percent increase from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022 (see figure 3).
In the same period, the use of Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), which allows shoppers to pay for a purchase in their native currency when shopping abroad, increased by +350 percent (see figure 4). While this increase should be viewed in light of the low volume of international travelers during Covid, it none the less sends a strong signal that consumers respond favorably to the option of DCC.
Hopefully, these insights will prove valuable for German merchants looking to prepare and optimize their chances of attracting foreign visitors. For merchants who want further advice, Nets offers these tips:
1. Prepare for a busy summer with mostly European visitors
Visitors are returning to all areas of Germany, not just the border regions, and the latest numbers show Germany experiencing higher growth than other DACH countries. The increase in visitors aligns with the analysis of the Oxford University Stringency index, which indicates that the growth in foreign visitors will continue now Covid restrictions have been relaxed.
The largest growth in travelers is from other European countries close to Germany, but long-distance travelers should not be ignored, as they frequently spend large amounts per purchase.
Merchants should use this knowledge to prepare for a return to pre-Covid levels of activity.
2. Expect entertainment, clothes, food and beverages to be in high demand
While the main spending during Covid was the more essential elements of travel, such as transportation and lodging, there is a clear trend from the data that the mostly European visitors coming now will frequently be seeking entertainment, upgrade their wardrobe and indulge themselves in German restaurants and bars. These sectors can look forward to significant growth.
3. Offer contactless digital payments and DCC
Nets data indicates a clear upward trend in the use of both contactless payment and Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). Both technologies provide advantages for both merchant and consumer, such as faster checkout and more transparency. And removes the need for tourists to carry cash.
Offering DCC enables customers to choose whether to pay in their own currency or the local currency. DCC increases both convenience and transparency for consumers, by showing them the price in a currency they are familiar with, thereby preventing any unpleasant surprises on their bank statement.
Vice President Large & Key Accounts Hospitality at Nets Group