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Fashion Can’t Count on Tourists to Come to the Rescue Again

Vacation destinations are gearing up for another huge year, including the return of Chinese travellers for the first time since the pandemic. But whether tourists will splurge on fashion like they did last year is less clear.
Passengers at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai.
Passengers at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. (Getty Images)

When writing about seasonal trends, I often find it’s helpful to look at what was written the last time around. What struck me about the start of the peak travel season in 2022 was how everyone — brands, analysts, journalists — was dead certain it was going to be a very, very good spring and summer. That’s more or less how it played out: tourism boomed (with the exception of China, still in zero-Covid lockdown). Travellers, particularly wealthy ones, splurged on new wardrobes.

Heading into the Easter holiday this coming weekend, after which it’s a short few weeks to Memorial Day in the US, and then summer vacations, the outlook is nowhere near as clear. For many brands, sales peaked soon after that magic summer, and giants like Levi’s, Gucci and Estée Lauder reported rare revenue declines in the fourth quarter. Rising interest rates and the Silicon Valley Bank crisis haven’t helped consumer sentiment since then. Forecasters are predicting Americans in particular will travel in even greater numbers this year, but inflation could take a toll: extra dollars spent on airfare and hotels leave less to spend on swimsuits and summer dresses.

Elsewhere, the picture is also hazy. Images from Paris of riots and trash piled up in the street may put a damper on travel to the city, where international tourists are a key market for many luxury brands. Perhaps not though; there are signs the protests and strikes are on the wane, and past bouts of unrest haven’t hurt Paris’ status as a top vacation destination.

Ironically, the exception to the gloomier consensus this time around is once again China, only in the opposite direction. Chinese citizens are free to travel the world for the first time since 2019. Forecasters are being cautious about how quickly international travel will bounce back: Oxford Economics predicts such traffic will hit 48 percent of 2019 levels this year, and many analysts expect Asian tourism hubs to see a rebound faster than Europe, the US and other far-flung destinations. There are already reports Chinese tourists are experiencing the skyrocketing airfares, shortages of planes and cabin crew and other inconveniences the rest of the world did after reopening. That didn’t stop Americans, Brits or Australians from spending last year, of course. And even a trickle of Chinese tourists will be welcome news for stores in Milan, Paris, New York and beyond that once relied on these visitors.

The Week Ahead wants to hear from you! Send tips, suggestions, complaints and compliments to brian.baskin@businessoffashion.com.

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