Shopping and history – the perfect mix for visitors 2 Jan 2019
St Albans is a place of rich history and varied interest, with historic buildings, great parks, museums, a fantastic food and drink offering and of course a thriving retail scene, with many wonderful independent shops as well as the high-street staples.
And so it has all the elements needed to entice tourists. Apparently, the fastest-growing inbound tourist market for the UK is the Chinese, and according to a 2017 VisitBritain report, by 2030, it is estimated China will make up nearly a quarter of global tourism.
So it is helpful to see what attracts these visitors to the UK. The national tourism agency reports that the most popular activities for Chinese visitors were visiting museums or art galleries, visiting parks and gardens, but also, crucially, going shopping. The number one destination, unsurprisingly, is Buckingham Palace – the Queen’s residence. But the number two destination is altogether more surprising: it is Bicester Village; the retail estate in Oxfordshire.
I believe St Albans is a genuine destination city, with both history and shopping in abundance, which is why, from the outset, we at Cositas were determined to not just open an interiors shop but to provide a destination experience that befitted this city. We want people to have reasons to come to us, spend time with us, shop with us, and even leave with some additional knowledge and a wish to return; an ethos the city holds too.
Cositas is housed – like many other retail outlets here – in a Grade II-listed building on Holywell HIll, with wonky floors and years of history. It is also in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter. From the beginning we knew that we wanted to provide a retail experience with a difference: a creative hub as well as a shop; a place where people can come and experience something new, buy original interiors pieces or chat to us about our expertise in interiors and specifically painted furniture.
Our shop is full of uniquely curated furniture and interiors accessories that range from industrial through to mid-century and Scandi chic, but also offers a handful of vintage hand-painted pieces that represent the experience of myself and some of my staff. And of course we stock the latest trend in furniture paint, Fusion Mineral Paint, that not only do we use ourselves but we also teach others how to use in our regular furniture painting workshops.
Cositas currently offers more than 30 different workshops that you can also book exclusively so that visitors to or groups of friends can come together and learn and laugh together whether it’s an NCT group, a corporate team-building event or a hen party. We’ve also recently launched Cositas Creative for Kids so we are now extending our offering to cover our customers children.
We’ve taken our workshops to city events too, such as the St Albans Christmas markets, and we team up with other local businesses such as Hatch and Cafe Rouge to offer exclusive offers for our customers.
The important thing is that this energy and creative spirit is not unique to us: it is alive and well in the independent retail sector of St Albans. Most of the owners of independent shops in our city are forever thinking of new ways to attract customers – both visiting tourists and also local residents – to offer them something different; something amazing.
So support your local shops; use them, but also SHOUT about them, to people outside St Albans as well as inside – they are doing everything they can to give you the best experience, but, maybe more importantly, they are a vital part of the offering to tourists, both domestic tourists but also the huge inbound market; and therefore they have the potential to boost our local economy, providing benefits to all of us.
Imagine if St Albans can grab even a tiny chunk of the staggering £205 billion that Chinese tourists overseas spent in 2016. And remember, ALL visitors love to shop!
This article, written by Emma Bustamante, owner of Cositas, independent home interiors and gift shop, originally appeared in the Herts Advertiser in January 2019.