How to use luxury to create difference at airports

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By Marco Passoni

What do travelling shoppers want from their airport experience? Frustratingly for us, they all want different things. Some want swift transactions as they run to their gate, others are seeking a moment’s escape from the rush of travelling. There are those who want a place to kill time, and still more who are just after easy access to a gift for a loved one, or a treat for themselves.

Luxury can provide all of this for both airport partners and shoppers. That is why, despite ridiculous naysaying from a few, luxury remains a bedrock of the travel retail sector and one of the pillars that our industry can be rebuilt around. It does not just cater to some shoppers; it caters to the customers this market really wants and needs to capture.

If you want proof, look no further than China’s Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, where a string of new luxury boutiques is opening and a new luxury fashion concession is set to be rolled out.

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This is an airport which is catering to the much-discussed and longed-after Chinese travelling shoppers, who are currently keeping their spend withing their borders due to travel restrictions and shifting rules.

But while luxury and the Chinese consumer are often closely linked in discussion, the premium end of our market is not just there to cater to one demographic.

Luxury speaks to the over-arching trends and demands which we are seeing from consumers worldwide on the domestic and international stages.

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At its heart, luxury is about experience. It is about creating something that customers seek out and want a piece of – or to be a part of. These brands always work best when given the chance to bring their story to life their way. It is their brand experience which draws shoppers in and they alone can deliver it to reap the rewards for all.

The best luxury brands are already creating their own world in unique spaces around the globe and this is something that travel retail can and should learn from.

Louis Vuitton, unsurprisingly, is a leader in creating landmark locations which say a lot with the space they have. The brand’s colourful Rodeo Drive overhaul or its blue-hued pop-up in KaDaWe Berlin both offer a perfect blend of an immersive moment of escape, coupled with easy access to products and collections for those passing through.

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Ralph Lauren’s Polo fragrance pop-up in everyone’s favourite travel retail hotspot, Hainan, is another which tells a story in a limited space and Burberry showcased heritage and excitement with its stand at the recent China International Consumer Goods Expo.

All of these examples showcase how space can be transformed to create something truly memorable and they are a blueprint which travel retail can and should learn from when it comes to deploying luxury in our market. These are stores and pop-ups that offer escapism, allowing shoppers to dip in or fully immerse themselves. Doing this properly requires a recognisable brand identity and the funding and skill to deploy it in a physical space. Luxury brands have that.

But this also requires input from the wider market. It requires space a flexibility from landlords and retailers. These spaces can serve as more than shops, they are relaxing spaces for shoppers and can provide rewards greater than stores or lounges alone.

These are truly experiential retail spaces that create attraction and engagement. In a world where shoppers want a moment, luxury can provide real impact.

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.