SFA, the company that owns and operates the 40 Saks Fifth Avenue stores, has appointed Kathleen Shea to the newly created position of vice president, travel and tourism strategy.
The appointment demonstrates just how important tourism is for the Saks Fifth Avenue stores, particularly at the Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan and other downtown stores in gateway cities, such as Miami and Los Angeles. It’s also very unusual for a retailer to have an executive solely charged with drumming up more business with tourists.
Downtown flagships, including Macy’s Herald Square, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, as well as Saks Fifth Avenue, all saw their tourist traffic disappear during COVID-19, though around the middle of last year tourism in the U.S., both foreign and domestic, started to pick up with more people being vaccinated, travel restrictions easing and pandemic-related hospitalizations declining.
In its announcement Thursday, SFA said “Shea brings a wealth of tourism industry knowledge, with more than 20 years of senior sales and marketing experience within luxury travel.”
Boosting business with international tourists can be tricky for retailers, involving language barriers, sensitivities to different cultures and product preferences, and being especially welcoming to travel groups and working with travel agents.
John Antonini, senior vice president and director of stores for SFA, cited a “resurgence of global tourism,” adding: “Demonstrated by Kathleen’s proven track record of driving record-setting results for top-tier hospitality brands, I am confident in her ability to build additional innovative relationships across the industry as we expand our market share among international visitors to North America.”
Shea previously served as vice president of sales at SaksWorks, which creates flexible work spaces at Saks Fifth Avenue stores and other locations. Prior to that she held roles at both the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, where she was responsible for increasing market share and property engagement throughout North America and Latin America, as well as at Canyon Ranch and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
During her tenure with the Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons, Shea worked to establish new properties in the U.S. and overseas. That experience, SFA indicated, “will prove invaluable as she works to drive SFA stores’ brand recognition in key international markets.”
Shea added, “SFA already maintains an impressive network of Saks Fifth Avenue store locations across North America’s major shopping markets and I am energized by the opportunity to ensure that we remain destinations of choice for travelers. I look forward to drawing upon my previous experience and working with John and our talented team to further advance SFA’s position as a major attraction for luxury shoppers.
SFA would not disclose how much of its business is generated by tourists.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international arrivals to the U.S. grew to 22.1 million in 2021, up from 19.2 million in 2020. Spending by international visitors also grew, reaching $81 billion, or 34 percent of 2019’s total.