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Cities Food & Drink Money Travel Trends

The Cities Where People Spend the Most on Dining and Shopping

Did you know that in some cities, travelers spend more than a third of their budget on food—or more than half their budget on shopping?

These findings are from a new report called Global Destination Cities Index: Indulgences from Mastercard, an outfit that should know, with its huge mass of data on visitor charges. Visitors to Dublin spend 36 percent of their total destination expenses on food and beverages, while travelers in Bloemfontein, South Africa, spend a whopping 64.4 percent of their budget on shopping. These are just a couple of the tantalizing but sometimes puzzling figures on how travelers spend their money.

Food and Beverage

The report cited 10 cities where visitors spend roughly a third—specifically, 30.9 to 36 percent—of their total local expenditures eating and drinking. And it’s a mixed bag, in descending order: Dublin, Stockholm, Bogota, Sao Paulo, Rio, Istanbul, Antalya, Malaga, Montreal, Palma de Mallorca, Vienna, and Lisbon. By contrast, visitors to other popular cities spend as little as 12.9 percent (Singapore). What are we to make of these figures?

The only explanation I can guess from the high-end figures is that, in all 10 cities, hotel, transportation, and entertainment prices are relatively low, so meals account for an above average proportion of spending. At the lower end, food and beverage expenses of 17.6 percent in London, 19.9 percent in New York, and 20.3 percent in Tokyo probably reflect the fact that accommodations, transportation, and entertainment prices are high in these cities.

Paris expenses, at 24.5 percent, are likely higher at least in part due to the Parisian obsession with fine food and wine, and the associated prices. Singapore’s low food and beverage spend, of 12.9 percent, probably reflects the abundance of tasty and affordable local cuisine.

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Shopping

Visitors to four cities in South Africa—Bloemfontein, Polokwane, Johannesburg, and Nelspruit—spend half or more of their total on shopping. Could folks visiting South Africa be buying lots of diamonds?

It’s trickier to determine why visitors to Warsaw spend 59.8 percent of their total expenditures on shopping, or why visitors to Copenhagen, London, Edinburgh, Chiba, Seoul, and Osaka spend 43.4 to 49.4 percent. Some  of these cities are likely affordable in other areas (such as lodging or transit), making shopping a bigger chunk of the pie; others may have particularly enticing shops, markets, and boutiques.

At the low end of study results, visitors to Paris spend just 18.5 percent of their expenditures on shopping—somewhat surprising, given Paris’s position as a global center for high fashion. New York, at 21.1 percent, is also somewhat surprising. But, again, travelers are also spending significant amounts on lodging, transportation, and food in these cities.

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The Takeaway

Other parts of the report will doubtless be of intense interest to travel professionals—people concerned with catering to visitor needs. Figures show total annual visitor expenditures, expenditures on food and beverages, and expenditures on shopping.

But for the most part, data on what travelers do and what they spend are not highly relevant to consumers. The figures may give you some clue as to relative prices and how much of your budget you need to allocate to food and drink, and they may indicate the places where you’re apt to find either bargains or high prices for shopping, but in my experience the amount of money people spend on shopping is determined by their own priorities rather than how much or how little other visitors spend.

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By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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