Light it up: What we can learn from Lunar New Year activations in travel retail

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Lunar New Year is here. In the past this has been a huge shopping event for travel retail, but even in our strange new world this occasion sets the benchmark for engaging and inspiring shoppers throughout Asia.

The most telling thing to note about the biggest and best travel retail activations for this year’s Lunar New Year is that the majority are not taking place in airports. With travel still heavily restricted, and Hainan firmly set as the heart of travel retail today, many of the biggest brands have focused their duty free energies on the downtown market for Lunar New Year 2022.

This provides more space and time to engage shoppers, but it is also because most of these activations rely on constantly engaging and inspiring shoppers – the “shop” is not the most important thing anymore.

At a glance, Lunar New Year activations in 2022 carry two main focuses: An omnichannel approach to deliver consistent engagement and a desire to deliver experiences more than sales

Looking across the market, we can also see the beauty brands are very well represented. Not only do these brands have the money and awareness in Asia to truly inspire, but this is a reminder once more that many of the biggest luxury and fashion brands continue to hold back in Chinese duty free and Hainan in particular, waiting for a more stable climate to operate in.

At a glance, Lunar New Year activations in 2022 carry two main focuses: An omnichannel approach to deliver consistent engagement and a desire to deliver experiences more than sales.

Neither of these is a new idea. They have both been widely discussed for the past two years. But their place at the centre of Lunar New Year selling demonstrates once more how important they are, especially with Asian consumers.

Creating a moment has never been more important. The Yves Saint Laurent and CDFG activation at Haikou Mova Mall is a perfect example of this in action. Not only does it present striking visuals, but it is a fully-engaging experience for shoppers with “retail expression and brand retailtainment” at its centre. These are not buzzwords here. The 3D room with animated greetings and a digital tiger takes photo opportunities to the level expected by young digital-savvy shoppers. Elsewhere, the fortune game taps into the gaming trend and the livestreamed music show took the location beyond the realms of a store into something that visitors want to experience for themselves.

Elizabeth Arden is tapping into a similar desire for fun and experience with its collaboration with Beijing artist Bu2ma and his popular character Alexander the Tiger. Putting a fun spin on the Year of the Tiger motif, this campaign is rolled out across Hainan, allowing shoppers to dive in and out, both online and offline. The glorious pop-up and photo opportunity puts the focus purely on fun and excitement, with products as an added bonus.

Likewise, L’Oréal has taken a cross-island approach for its campaign with CDFG, anchored at the Sanya International Duty Free Shopping Complex. Shoppers receive an invite to the pop-up as they arrive on the island. This creates the sort of tailored and exclusive service which modern shoppers desire. The celebration continues at touchpoints across the island, all leading to the butler service at the pop-up itself to create a true experience for guests.

Curation and one-off experiences were also the primary focus for DFS Group and Shiseido in their individual campaigns. This Lunar New Year the luxury retailer has created a curated offer for shoppers which is promoted across digital platforms, while Shiseido collaborated with CDFG to put on a stunning drone light display in the sky above Hainan.

The important point here, across all of these, is that experience is the main aim. Products do not have to be ignored, in fact there are some excellent holiday exclusives out there, but they are just a part of a curated and created brand experience.

If shoppers take one thing away from all the best Lunar New Year activations in travel retail in 2022 it will be a memory and a sense of engagement with the brand – and in the long run, that is the most valuable thing.

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.