Building the future: 6 lessons to shape travel retail in 2024

By Marco Passoni

We are halfway through 2024 and it has been, to me, an interesting and exciting year for travel retail so far. The recent TFWA Asia Pacific event in Singapore showcased the excitement which is back in the market, and we are seeing new concepts and ideas begin to surface.

But alongside this, we are also seeing many of the same old mistakes continue to plague our sector, from old business models to the same conversations – evolution is at the heart of our market, and we must always embrace that.

So, these are my six takeaways from the first six months of 2024, and the key lessons I take forward for the next six months.

Culture over Commerce

I have spoken at length this year about the importance of brand storytelling and experience in the travel retail sector – as in all retail sectors. The ability to create and deliver a great product is simply the right-to-play today, especially in this market. Brands must think beyond products and find a way to engage consumers with shared beliefs and memorable moments. Each of these is only possible with a clear brand identity, brought to life in an exciting way. This requires all stakeholders. Landlords and retailers must create the space and flexibility for brands to do this, and brands must deliver something interesting and bespoke.

Space Counts

Delivering what consumers want today means using space correctly. I implore brands, retailers and landlords alike to look at new and interesting ways to use their locations. For me it is clear that this requires two things: pop-ups and cross-category collaborations. The first of these is the best way to create something engaging in a small or otherwise wastes space, and provides a platform for brands to test something truly innovative and experiential. We will only find success if we try things. Second, we have seen some great examples of retail and F&B collaborations this year, but we need more. The Doha Louis Vuitton lounge is an excellent example of a liveable branded space, which goes beyond retail – it is also proof that we can do more.

Train Your People

Our people are our most valuable frontline asset – we have to support them in every way. When shoppers require a tailored and personal service, our staff need data and training to ensure they are fully equipped to deliver. This is a non-negotiable in the modern market. We know that an excellent experience is directly linked to an increase in revenue, so this is an obvious win for all of us. If you are not sure where to start, our expert Customer eXperience Management team will be pleased to help.

Protect Price

It has been heartening to see more people talk about putting price first, but there are still too many in the market who would like to pretend it is not an issue. Price is one of the core pillars of our market, it is something our shoppers expect from us and they have enough other options if we do not deliver for them. Price does not stand apart from exclusivity and experience, as other key pillars, it stands alongside them is making this market what it is. If you want proof of how important price is, look at the damage the UK Government’s foolish decision to cut tax-free shopping continues to do, both in terms of traveller numbers and revenue. Price matters, it always will.

Think Global, Act Local

Our shopper demographics have changed. The Chinese are not returning at pace and more and more people are finally looking wider in the market. India is growing and an exciting new opportunity, with the likes of Vietnam not far behind, and both brands and retailers are recognising this. But it is vital for all stakeholders to know not just the market’s shoppers, but their own. Investigate and tap into the trends of those who walk through your doors. Every travel retail store is unique, despite the best efforts of some, and each traveller is too – so no two experiences should be the same.

Talk is Cheap

From sustainability to price and business models, we must stop talking about change and then taking the easy way out. We have all known that the current business model is outdates for years, but still it is used. We hear lots of talk about sustainable innovation, but just get some plastic removed from packets. When we meet in Cannes at the end of the summer, let us hear about radical ideas and real efforts. No more empty PR promises and pointless discussions, it is time for action on all fronts.

Marco Passoni has decades of experience in the travel retail sector. He has spent the majority of his career in senior leader positions throughout the market, including a 12-year tenure as CEO of a leading international Duty Free distribution company and a further 8 years running a retail firm that operated fashion mono-brand stores in several international airports.
Today, as Senior Executive VP and founding partner of 2.0 & Partners, he leads the company’s efforts in developing and innovating services which create new opportunities and partnerships for all members of the travel retail Trinity. A former elite-level sailor, with a World Championship to his name, Marco now spends much of his time airside, experiencing the changing travel retail industry first-hand, to better guide partners and clients on the best way to do business in this vibrant and unique market.