Partnership is not the best way forward for travel retail, it is the only way forward

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By Marco Passoni

There was a time when most conversations about travel retail focussed on the need for a new business model. We spoke of a collaborative approach which would shape the future. There is less of that talk at the moment.

As you look at the travel retail sector today, especially the new tenders and deals which will shape the market for the next decade, there is a lot of outdated Mater Concession models at major airports and business continues much as it did before the pandemic. We are settling into a tired model of stuffy permanence, which does not reflect our current reality.

This is not true everywhere, some are trying a new approach and creating excellence in the process. There are joint ventures, such as the Gebr Heinemann approach which has birthed concepts such as GateZero, or the flourishing Extime Duty Free from Lagardère and Groupe ADP. These models provide flexibility, shared risk and the win-win model which our sector needs for the future.

We are settling into a tired model of stuffy permanence, which does not reflect our current reality

The power of a more collaborative approach was seen very recently with the opening of the stunning new Dolce & Gabbana store at Hamad International Airport with Qatar Duty Free. Hamad and the QDF team have become a leader in delivering luxury shopping in the right way for travel retail and this is a great example of how listening and working in a collaborative manner helps to create that excellence.

Dolce & Gabbana’s new store is a beautiful example of the brand experience brought to life in a travel setting. The brand already operates a pop-up in the Qatar Duty Free’s superb Viale del Lusso luxury zone. The success of this led to the brand taking on a bigger, more permanent space as well in the form of the new store. This is what happens when brands are given the space and freedom to express themselves, and retailers and operators show the flexibility to react.

Long-term fixed plans are foolish. They do not allow for changing shopper trends or new demands. And reacting to the needs and wishes of our shoppers is exactly what we need to be doing – now more than ever. Those demands are changing fast, and we in travel retail need an approach which allows us to change fast too.

Long-term fixed plans are foolish…demands are changing fast, and we in travel retail need an approach which allows us to change fast too.

No stakeholders in the market can do this alone – and that is especially true when we are all trapped in straitjacket contracts which limit innovation, or kill it completely. Innovation needs flexibility and the capacity to adapt and react quickly to change and opportunity. And that is what we miss if we fail to collaborate and just blindly do what we have done before – we miss opportunities.

It is up to brands to identify the opportunities their brand experience or offer can fulfil, and operators and retailer must create the freedom to explore how to capitalise on that.  This is how new stores like the Dolce & Gabbana outlet with Qatar Duty Free come about, they are opportunities recognised and seized in partnership and collaboration.

We cannot change our contracts and business model overnight, but we can change our approach – and we must do so, or we will leave opportunities untaken.

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.