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How Merchants Can Benefit from the 2023 Global Travel Rush

Smiling Couple Touring Sagrada Familia Barcelona


Global travel in 2023 is likely to look very different from what merchants have experienced in recent years. With border restrictions around the world continuing to loosen and lift, there is a 30% rise in global tourism1 predicted by analysts at the Economist Intelligence Unit this year. For merchants this means the potential exists to tap into a more lucrative market of inbound tourists.

Global travel generates significant revenue for a wide range of businesses from airlines and hotels to restaurants and retailers. With changes in travel preferences, consumer interests are focused on sustainable practices, adoption of digital technology and local experiences. Merchants will want to be aware of these trends, which may vary by region to ensure they are offering an optimal customer experience.

For example, tourists are increasingly interested in visiting international locations, and they are branching out from their once-consistent travel patterns to get there like choosing rail options. Being aware of these trends can help merchants who may not have had traffic from tourists pre-pandemic prepare for the new influx. Those merchants who are in popular destinations will want to ensure they offer a variety of payment methods given the rapid adoption of new payment methods during the pandemic. Within this article, we examine how these trends are impacting merchants from different regions around the world.

High level view European city


Merchants in Canada and Mexico can prepare for more cross-border travel

Many travelers in North America spent their pandemic down-time exploring and adventuring domestically. With restrictions lifting, many are traveling within the continent, which offers merchants the ability to capture more tourist spend.

Mexico has already been experiencing an influx of tourists. In 2022, the Mexico Caribbean broke pre-pandemic 2019 records with over 19 million tourists visiting the area. This year, it is estimated that over 20.5 million tourists will be visiting, making it the biggest year on record for tourist arrivals2 in the history of the region. While merchants in this region have always relied on tourism, it will be important for them to prepare for high volumes and provide the digital technology travelers are coming to expect.  Hotels will want to offer solutions like pre-check in and post check out payment options that can be easily managed via an app or self-serve kiosk.  Merchants in these tourist corridors will want to offer pay and ship options, in app payments and technology like zero-checkout, where customers choose their goods and do not have to interact with a cashier or kiosk, this allows for the potential to capture more tourist dollars3 from those tourists expecting convenience.

Canada recently lifted their vaccination requirement for entry in October 2022, opening the door for more tourists in 2023. The United States is seeing travel increases both in and out of the country as people get more comfortable traveling abroad.  US travel to Canada is forecasted to grow 56% from 2022 to 2027 and will remain the top country for arrivals to Canada, due to proximity4. To avoid high costs of airline prices due to inflation and demand5 many will plan to drive from the U.S. to Canada and some may favor rail travel. Merchants who are located near border crossings and rail station stops will benefit from this influx of tourist spending. Convenience stores, retail and restaurants in these areas will want to create seamless checkout experiences to speed up the transaction process for customers on the go.

Many traveling to Canada and Mexico are looking for sustainable travel options, which can mean expecting eco-friendly accommodations, supporting local small businesses and dining options like farm to table.  These tourists also expect the conveniences they have when shopping at home, like digital payment options, and new technologies.   

Tourists in Europe look for localized experiences

By early 2022, destinations across Europe began easing up on travel restrictions. Countries like Germany,6 Italy,7 and Denmark8 began to more broadly allow entry to vaccinated tourists. Now all of Europe is open to tourists and for the most part, there are no longer COVID-19 travel restrictions of any kind which means people can easily travel the continent. Merchants are beginning to see the benefits of this recovery, with tourism arrivals in the region reaching nearly 80% of pre-pandemic levels.9 Across Europe there has been a steady rise in contactless payment methods as a result of the pandemic, merchants will want to make sure tourists know they have that option when making payments.

Popular destinations are gaining even more interest. In Spain, increased tourism is expected to continue and reach 89 million by 2027.10 Merchants in Barcelona will want to make sure new tourists are able to use their preferred payment method by offering acceptance of all card types. Displaying acceptance signage is also a helpful way to welcome tourists and their business—especially considering 74% of cardholders look for signage before paying.11 Merchants will also want to prepare for more off-season visitors. Fewer consumers are traveling at peak times to save money given rising costs.5 For example, London is already seeing a sharp year-round increase5 that could potentially outpace their 2019 tourism numbers.

This higher volume could also lead to an increase in tourist transit usage. In Europe specifically, locals and tourists may start to rely on the more affordable and more eco-friendly rail system. The Eurail’s extensive routes offer visitors a budget-friendly way to travel the continent while also giving locals easy access to top locations. However, the overcrowding being observed in Europe’s hub cities may affect the amount of traffic on the track. Merchants who have updated payment technology in place at key transit and transaction touchpoints can enhance the experiences12 of locals and tourists alike. Extending business hours13 is also a way to give visitors more of an opportunity to spend.

Travelers who are still aiming for peak seasons but also want to avoid crowds will look to lesser-known European destinations. It is important for merchants in these locations to implement the right technologies to prepare for an expected increase in transactions. Enabling the latest mobile payment options is an easy way for smaller merchants to speed up the transaction process13 and increase customer satisfaction.

Global Tourism Trends Statistics 2023


Impact of China reentering the tourism pool

In January 2023, China lifted most of its travel restrictions for its citizens, opening the door for 17% of the world’s population to travel again for the first time in almost three years. A single day after those restriction lifts were announced, one of China’s biggest booking platforms saw abroad bookings jump 250%.14

Many in Asia are not traveling far from home. The numbers already show that this population will be defining what it looks like to travel within Asia this year. Three-fourths of travel agencies surveyed by Chinese trade firms said their clients’ top choice was Southeast Asia.14 Merchants should keep in mind Chinese millennials and Gen Z are looking for localized experiences versus the bus tours some older generations of Chinese have gravitated towards.15

Those who are not exploring the Asia-Pacific region are traveling to high-end shopping destinations to reenter the luxury goods pool. Milan, London, and Paris offer the elite shopping experiences that some Chinese tourists have been missing since the border closures. In these regions, complementary businesses, like fine dining establishments, will likely see a tangential increase in traffic and should also be considering how to adapt to both payment and cultural trends.

In both instances, merchants can capture more spend from Chinese travelers by accepting at least one form of payment they carry and offering digitized payment experiences.  The absence of travelers from Asia Pacific has been felt across the tourism landscape. With their return, competition for their spending in travel corridors and amongst global merchants will be high. Merchants willing to offer them a familiar experience may help win their favor.

Man exploring city


Final thoughts on travel behaviors in 2023

The post-pandemic world comes with previously unforeseen needs and behaviors, especially when it comes to tourism. Now is the time to prepare for every potential challenge the influx presents. As the digitalization of Travel and Hospitality services continues to rise during 2023,12 merchants should focus on the customer experience.

Merchants who have stayed up to date on how technologies have been developed, and have in turn implemented them, will have an advantage. Start preparing your business for an increase in traffic, click here to access complimentary signage or contact your acquirer.


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  1. “Tourism Outlook 2023.” Economist Intelligence Unit, November 30, 2022.

  2. Richardson, Jennifer. “Mexican Caribbean Preparing For The Biggest Year On Record For Tourist Arrivals.” Cancun Sun, February 5, 2023.

  3. Bantra, Andriana. Rep. The Retail Reveal: Navigating a New Travel Landscape. Boston, MA: Kantar, 2022.
  4. Travel Flows in Canada, September 2021, Euromonitor International, 2021
  5. Bachelor, Blane. “Why Your Dream European Vacation Is Already Booked Solid.” CNN. Cable News Network, February 4, 2023.
  6. Germany, U.S. Mission. “Covid-19 Information.” U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Germany, January 3, 2022.

  7. Italy, U.S. Mission. “Covid-19 Information.” U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Italy, January 14, 2022. U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Italy. "

    COVID-19 Information."
  8. Denmark, U.S. Mission. “Covid-19 Information for Denmark.” U.S. Embassy & Consulate in the Kingdom of Denmark, January 14, 2022.

  9. “World Tourism Organization.” Tourism Set to Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels in Some Regions in 2023, January 17, 2023.

  10. “Tourism Flows in Spain.” Euromonitor. Accessed April 5, 2023.
  11. C+R Research Study of 1,479 Discover® Global Network cardholders, July 2022 commissioned by DFS Services LLC.
  12. Rep. 2023: Reimagining a Brighter Future for Travel and Hospitality. Worldline, 2023.
  13. “7 Consejos Para La Recuperación Del Comercio Minorista: Cómo Conseguir ...” Discover Global Network. Accessed March 21, 2023.

  14. Feng, Emily. “Tourist Sites around the World Are Preparing for a Surge in Chinese Tourists.” NPR. NPR, January 8, 2023.
  15. Chernavina, Kate. “Marketing to Chinese Tourists in 2023 - Where Are They Going?” HI, February 8, 2023.


The information provided herein is sponsored by Discover® Global Network. It is intended for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.