Global travel retail: the time is now, but how?

How can beauty and luxury brands answer the who, where and what to prepare for post-Covid travel (re)launch?

A person wearing a blazer looking over their shoulder
A person wearing a blazer looking over their shoulder

Stephane Courqueux

28 April 2023

3 min read

U-shape travel retail 

Which industry has been more disrupted in recent year than travel retail? Like airlines and hospitality, travel retail – back then promisingly called the ‘sixth continent’ – was suddenly suspended during the pandemic. But today, global travel retail businesses are excited, as travel has been unlocked once more! 

Projections are optimistic: up to 115 billion USD by 2025, compared to 70 billion USD in 2022. One third is expected to go to the beauty industry, which means that the beauty travel retail business could supersede the biggest beauty companies themselves. This is telling of the size of the opportunity and the appetite for beauty travel retail brands to regain or conquer this promising land. 

After depressing experiences across airports during the pandemic, travel and retail infrastructure are (almost) ready to attract and entertain as many travellers as possible. Look at Dubai airport, which is now seriously challenging that of Singapore and Hong Kong on the roads between East and West. Look at the US travellers discovering with wonder how much more exciting shopping in overseas airports is compared to their domestic setting.  

Travel retail is now a laboratory, where brands can test and deploy new retail concepts. Yet a big question remains among many others: shall they facilitate planned shoppers, or shall they foster discovery for exploring shoppers? Or both? Or something else? 

Dubai Duty Free

Is there a pilot on this plane?

With the travel retail business redeploying super-fast, when is fast too fast? Currently, brands and operators are ready, but ready for what? There have never been so many interrogations – who, where, what – about the travel retail opportunity:

  • Who is going to travel in the next month, next year? Even the travel retail experts don’t want to forecast Chinese traveller numbers. Most brands have focused on understanding Chinese traveller behaviours, only to discover now that Western travellers do not integrate as much shopping in their travel plans. Who is the East- and Southeast Asian rising middle class? Do they anticipate finding beauty treasures while travelling?
  • Where are travellers planning to go? There are a lot of travel industry predictions about this topic, but also a lot of uncertainty. Health and safety concerns, cravings for favourite destinations, yo-yo costs, incentive schemes, new roles for travel journeys, etc. must all be considered before travellers decide on their plans.
  • What they will buy, if anything, is the last question for brands. Beauty routines and repertoires have changed because of the pandemic, as have the beauty product check lists that travellers are creating – or not – before flying. The role of travel and role of shopping have also been revamped with a huge appetite for more experiential and discovery journeys. Yet with tension between the anticipation for a relaxing, tropical or cultural travel experience and a functionally and emotionally disrupting shopping journey, are travellers still ready to battle elbows in Hainan mega malls, or queue in front of Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore’s high end boutiques?

There are too many questions for travel retail teams, who are rightly focused on immediate implementation of ‘the best’, but what if the wrong merchandise is sent to the wrong destination or the wrong traveller?

Travel Luxury

People before POS

Our human insight on travel retail for beauty, luxury and food and beverages has never been so rich. So how do we do what matters in this industry?

  1. We start with understanding people and culture through semiotics and persona development.
  2. We map the macro and micro journeys of the planners, explorers, first-time travellers, etc.
  3. We design and test go-to-market initiatives that align with those journeys.

To know more about the topics we are currently working on, our methods to respond to the opportunities, to share your own challenges, or just to have a stimulating conversation, get in touch!

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