New motto for tourists: Shop 'til you drop

By Bob Retzlaff

The United States is full of historical attractions, but what do tourists -- both foreign and American -- like to do more than visit such places as the Liberty Bell, Jefferson Memorial and the Alamo?

Shop, of course.

While Las Vegas is the head of Casino Land, what is the No. 1 pastime there?


No, it's not the slots, but shopping.

In Orlando, Fla., where Disney World is king and probably always will be, what's the next biggest draw?

It's the Beltz Outlet Mall, silly!

Sparked primarily by a surge in popularity with outlet malls -- the fastest growing segment of the retail industry -- shopping is uppermost in the minds of most tourists, recent surveys show, and in many cases outstrips the popularity of more traditionally serious destinations.

To focus on the popularity of shopping among tourists, first you have to define a "tourist." The accepted definition is provided by the nonprofit Travel Industry Association as someone who travels at least 100 miles or more and stays in a hotel or motel overnight.

A good example of tourism's impact on retailing is found near Washington, D.C.

There, about 30 miles south of the city, the giant enclosed outlet mall Potomac Mills attracts some 17.2 million shoppers a year, and at least 4.5 million are tourists.

The mall is the most popular tourist destination in a tourism-rich area and attracts more visitors than Arlington National Cemetery, with about 4 million a year; Colonial Williamsburg, with 2.5 million, and Mount Vernon, at 1 million.


About the only tourist attraction rival to Potomac Mills is the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington. It draws 8.4 million visitors a year, many from the surrounding region.

In Las Vegas, a recent study really opens your eyes to the impact of tourist-shoppers.

Shopping, entertainment and fine dining have now replaced gambling as the top attractions for visitors there, according to a survey commissioned by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The city hosts about 30 million-plus visitors a year -- some 80 percent domestic and 20 percent foreign. Domestic visitors polled listed "entertainment" ahead of gambling as their No. 1 Las Vegas pastime, while international visitors put both shopping and dining ahead of action in the casinos.

We've done more than our share of shopping on our various trips -- both domestic and foreign -- and can vouch for the accuracy of the findings.

A trip to the multi-building Beltz Outlet Mall and its several hundred shops in Orlando is almost as entertaining as a trip to Disney World. Most visitors spend a ton of money at Beltz -- much more than at the land of Mickey Mouse.

The number of foreign visitors you see perusing the shops is almost overwhelming.

Disney World itself lends more credibility to the lure of shopping, since even there the numerous retail outlets get prime locations. Often, they are more jammed than Disney's rides and other attractions.


Shopping areas abound near high-traffic mainline attractions, but we've never seen as many as we've encountered along Interstate 35 in Texas.

Along a 180-mile strip between just south of Dallas and into San Antonio you'll see dozens of huge shopping centers, mostly outlet malls. Some of the larger and better known ones are the New Braunfels Mill Store Place and San Marcos Factory Shops, near San Antonio, and the Southwest Outlet Center at Hillsboro, near Dallas.

Outlets actually came about in the late 1800s when manufacturers began selling to their employees discounted irregular and surplus merchandise. As the supply of goods exceeded the employees' needs, the outlets -- usually in buildings attached to the factories -- opened to the public.

In 1970, Vanity Fair Lingerie established the United States' first multi-tenant outlet center in Reading, Pa., now known as "the outlet capital of the world."

So the next time you travel to a popular tourist destination, you can rest assured you will find plenty of shopping nearby.

Boeing's live shows

Boeing has announced that it is offering airlines a way to give their passengers live television, e-mail and high-speed Internet access from their seats.

Dubbed Connexion by Boeing, the system will use satellites and a specially designed antenna to deliver those in-flight services, starting next year. According to USA Today, Boeing says Connexion is the first to offer these services together and will be faster than other planned e-mail or Internet services for airline passengers.


Here and there

SeaWorld in Orlando has started selling tickets via the Internet that consumers can print at home. The move is the latest attempt to appeal to consumers who are growing increasingly impatient with lines at theme parks. SeaWorld apparently is the first theme park to implement the system on a large scale, although some ticket-sellers for movie theaters and music concerts are experimenting with the print-it-yourself technology, notes Knight Ridder News Service.

A partnership of development and entertainment executives is proposing a $28 million Motown music museum in Detroit's downtown entertainment district. To be called Motown Center, the museum would honor the Detroit music that electrified the nation in the 1960s.

Bob Retzlaff is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached by phone (507-285-7704) or e-mail (

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