The Evolution of Souvenirs

Souvenirs are a multi-million dollar business and have always formed a crucial part of the travel experience. Holiday Inn has mapped the evolution and history of souvenirs, tracing the very first travel mementoes through to their modern-day equivalents. By Anisa Ghuloom.

The brand uncovers key dates, trends and fads that have impacted what and why travellers collect souvenirs since 980BC, including where the world’s largest gift shop can be found and which nation of travellers spend the most on souvenirs.

The Evolution of Souvenirs is a prelude to a multi-part Souvenir Series, of infographics developed from a survey of travellers across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The series delves into the cultural nuances, buying habits and perceptions of souvenir sharing across a wide range of nationalities and ages.

“Souvenirs are an integral part of the travel experience – everyone has a souvenir that is a treasured memento of a great trip, as well as ones that might have quickly found their way to the back of a cupboard,” says Lee Lin Teo, Director of Brand Management for the Holiday Inn Brand Family across Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA) at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).

“The Souvenir Series gives us the opportunity to uncover not only what travellers like to bring home and share with friends, family and colleagues but also provides an incredible insight into the differences across this diverse and culturally rich region. We always want to learn more about our guests and provide new and exciting experiences, so we are looking forward to the insights from this research.”


Travel Habits: the Who, What, Where and Why of Souvenir Buying

According to a Holiday Inn Souvenir Study, which surveyed the habits and preferences of travellers from across the AMEA region, almost half of the respondents attributed this to the desire of bringing part of the holiday home, though only one in 10 respondents are souvenir hobbyists. It was also found that younger travellers are more likely to place importance on buying souvenirs when compared to older travellers.

As a region, buying souvenirs for family members was found to be the top priority with an average spend of US$30 per gift, with travellers from Australia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East prioritising their partners first. Buying gifts for co-workers fell lower on the list, except for travellers from Japan, where it is customary to give souvenirs to colleagues. The average budget set aside for colleagues is about US$13.

Japanese travellers were also found to be the most receptive to souvenir requests from others ahead of a trip.

Wacky, Weird and Wonderful Souvenirs

Assorted spices from India, fossilised bird dropping and even an Australian didgeridoo. These are just a taste of the most memorable souvenirs received and bought by travellers from around the AMEA region.

On a scale of love to hate and from wacky to wonderful, local keepsakes like Vietnamese coffee and African drums scored high on the ‘love it’ scale while educational or novelty items like sushi shaped USB flash drives scored a chuckle but not the pride of place on a recipient’s mantelpiece.

Also revealing an interesting insight, the Souvenir Study shows souvenir preferences and wackiness/wonderment are not mutually exclusive, particularly since magnets of global landmarks – those cheap and cheerful items on every traveller’s souvenir list – though considered wonderful, are generally not thought that highly of.

On the bright side, people across the region are happy to receive food and art or antique pieces reflecting an authentic experience. Similarly, travellers who embrace the element of surprise are fans of wacky souvenirs, such as a sheep’s wool belly button warmer from New Zealand.

Over 900 travellers, from Australasia, India, Japan, the Middle East, South East Asia and South Africa took part in the survey, which focused on understanding the value travellers place on buying and receiving souvenirs as part of their travel experience.

Keep updated on the Souvenirs Series and all other Holiday Inn news and campaigns by visiting

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