Cash Takes a Holiday

Taking Advantage of the Tourist Market

Tourists traveling in the United States spent nearly $1.5 billion in 1999 on food, lodging, and souvenirs, according to the Travel Industry Association of America and the Tourism Industries/International Trade Administration. Nearly half of the adult tourists-45%-went shopping almost as soon as their bags were unpacked. In fact, shopping is domestic travelers’ No. 1 activity. But how can you persuade tourists to buy fine jewelry instead of a T-shirt? Charms are a popular memento, but the tourist market holds much bigger opportunities for enterprising jewelers. Here’s how some jewelers do it:

Carolina dreams. Diamonds ‘n Dunes, Manteo, N.C., faces the Albemarle Sound southwest of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Husband-and-wife owners Ken Alexanian Kelley and Eileen Kelley Alexanian sell fine jewelry to vacationing families who visit during the summer. Many items feature nautical themes, including 14k gold mermaid rings and pendants made by Steven Douglas ([888] 696-8080). Gold-cast seashell-design bracelets also are popular. They’re available in two styles, one from Douglas, the other from Roberto Rafaello Italian Designs & Gold Manufacturing ([213] 489-3030). The store also sells pieces from its own Lighthouse Jewelry Collection. The best seller, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse necklace, features a 14k tricolored gold lighthouse pendant with .33-ct. t.w. pavé diamonds on a wheat-style necklace. The piece is suitable for men or women and retails for $750.

Clouds over the Windy City. A visitor to Chicago will find Lester Lampert [Jewelers] on Oak Street, in the heart of the Windy City’s fashion- and tourist-rich shopping district, near the Oak St. Beach and not far from Barney’s, Prada, and other über-chic stores. Tourists looking for unique, high-end pieces often buy custom-made pendants ($850-$2,750 retail), which can be inscribed or set with diamonds. But vice president David Lampert notes that the favorite item of travelers who want to take home a piece of Chicago’s culture and elegance is the store’s original-design CumuLLus diamond pendant. It’s an 18k gold or platinum cloud design set with .5 to 31.5 cts. of Lazare Kaplan diamonds. Retail prices range from $2,300 to $130,000.

Maine chances. Tucked into the southeast corner of Maine, just 10 miles from the state’s rugged shoreline, is Dancer House Designs, Kennebunk. Nina Ward, president, offers tourists a number of Maine-inspired charms, including sand buckets and shovels from Golden Valley, Summit, N.J. ([908] 665-2505), and conch shells with peach-enameled interiors from LS Silver, Bar Harbor, Maine ([207] 288-4911). Ward also sells fruits of the state’s own making: “watermelon” tourmaline. This “great pretender,” as the American Gem Society describes it, typically comprises a mint-green shell over light or dark pink, peach, or blue hues. Ward custom-sets 2-ct. or larger “slices” of the stone for tourists who want a unique souvenir of Maine. Prices vary depending on carat weight. One of Ward’s pieces-a 35-ct. tourmaline set in a 14k rose-gold pin-and-pendant combination-retails for $5,000.

Autumn in Vermont. From mid-summer until Columbus Day, Walter Tofel, owner of Tofel’s Jewelers in Bennington, Vt., sees a stream of older, wealthier city dwellers and retirees pass through his town to enjoy fall’s spectacular foliage in the northeastern United States. Many tourists purchase maple leaf or covered bridge charms. Recently, Tofel sold a custom-made 18k yellow gold sap bucket pendant, with 1.5-cts. t.w. of VS-quality pavé diamonds, for $3,000. He also has designed a “travel bracelet” featuring locally mined stones. The “Vermonter” comprises seven 16-mm by 12-mm oval-cut red quartz gems set in 14k gold. It sells for $950.

Western attractions. JC Jewelers sits at the gateway to Yellowstone National Park in downtown Jackson Hole, Wyo. During the summer, the store-housed in a 1940s log cabin-is flooded with tourists on their way to the park. Owner Jan Case sells many Teton Mountain, bear, and cowboy hat and boot charms. Some are made by Rembrandt Charms, Buffalo, N.Y., and others are the work of local artisans. Also popular is “ivory” jewelry carved from the eyeteeth (“tusks”) of elk, which are hunted in the West for their meat. The most popular items are contemporary pieces made by Jan’s husband, Jeter Case. Featuring clean lines and textured surfaces, including matte-finished 18k gold or platinum, the pieces retail for $1,200 to $20,000.

Virginia is for jewelry lovers. Williamsburg Jewelers, Williamsburg, Va., is located in the state’s “historic triangle,” four miles from Jamestown, eight miles from Yorktown, and one mile from Williamsburg. Store manager Carol Hirose says many vacationing families pass through town on their way to nearby campgrounds and historical sites. Custom-made charms (created by store owner Roy Hirose) include 14k gold tricorn hats, George Washington’s headpiece of choice. Because of the area’s proximity to the James and York Rivers, the store also carries nautical selections, including sand dollars.

The inside scoop. Jewelers who count tourists among their best customers offer the following tips on selling to out-of-towners:

  • Offer products that reflect the uniqueness of your area. These are the pieces that tell a story.

  • Be as gracious to tourists as if they were visiting you in your own living room. They are, in a sense, guests in your secondary home.

  • Enjoy waiting on people. If you do, they’ll enjoy buying from you.

  • Maintain a large supply of patience. Tourists are relaxed and open to spending, but they also may take more time to browse.

  • Make sure you have enough inventory available. Tourists can’t always return to the store to pick something up later.

  • Treat tourists as if you want to make them lifetime customers. Nearly every jeweler queried for this article maintains that 40% of their business comes from one-time vacationers who now call on them year-round.

Baiting the hook. Jewelers in tourist areas use a variety of tactics to lure customers into their stores. North Carolina’s Diamonds ‘n Dunes attracts tourists with a 7-foot-tall mermaid statue and water fountain. Tofel’s Jewelers in Vermont packs a portion of two storefront windows with estate pieces to attract traveling retirees. And JC Jewelers’ log cabin in Wyoming catches tourists’ eyes because-well, because it’s a log cabin.

One way to attract collectors is by offering regional lines of national brands. Regional collections account for a small percentage of sales, say those who offer them, but stocking the lines celebrates your area and adds variety to your store’s mix.

Lagos, Philadelphia, Pa., sells its designer sterling silver and 18k gold creations nationwide at its boutiques and select department and jewelry stores. But Lagos recently started selling a “Heart of Philadelphia” pendant and set of earrings in 14k gold and sterling silver as a tribute to the City of Brotherly Love. Retail prices range from $100 to $4,000. Lagos plans to offer lines that celebrate other cities, including Beverly Hills, but details of the venture were unavailable at press time.

John Atencio, Denver, Colo., sells a “Golden Shimmer” collection of earrings, pendants, and rings featuring the Aspen leaf-which turns a brilliant yellow during the fall in Colorado-at its boutiques statewide. Designs are available in 14k and 18k gold, and some feature .10 ct. t.w. diamonds. Retail prices range from $180 to $945. Can a “shopping” vacation be relaxing?JCK queried two retail outlet center experts-Michele Rothstein, vice president of marketing for Chelsea Premium Outlets, and Anne Lipscomb, group vice president of marketing for The Mills Corporation-on why tourists spend so much time and money in search of the perfect memorabilia.

Why do travelers shop?

Rothstein: Tourists don’t have any time pressures, so they’re relaxed and can shop [at a] more leisurely [pace] and pamper themselves.

Lipscomb: People want to bring souvenirs home with them. They want pieces of different areas of the country, or of a different country. And tourists want value from their merchandise, and to have a good time.

How do the wants of domestic and international shoppers differ?

Rothstein: For international travelers, shopping may be the focal point of the journey. The further you travel, the greater the likelihood you’ll spend more money.

Lipscomb: Data from the Travel Industry Association of America proves that international travelers spend more money. They’re looking for better stores and products.

When did your company realize that tourism and shopping go hand in hand?

Rothstein: When we needed translators, starting in the early nineties. When stores in our centers told us they needed international clothing size charts and multilingual concierges to speak French, Japanese, German, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Mandarin Chinese.

Lipscomb: We first recognized the potential in the Washington, D.C., area 15 years ago because of its large number of tourists. Then, after our first few centers were established, we realized the large number and popularity of organized tour buses and started marketing our centers to them.

How many and which jewelry-specific stores do your centers feature?

Rothstein: We feature 50 jewelry vendors, including Zale’s Outlets, Ultra Diamond and Gold stores, and more.

Lipscomb: We have 74 jewelry-specific vendors in all of our locations, including Fossil.

Show Me the Money / In 1997 (the most recent data available), travelers spent the most money in the following 10 states (in billions):

California $65.82



New York










New Jersey






Source: Tourism Works for America Report, The Travel Industry Association of America

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