The State of Global Travel Retail

Today, Global Travel Retail represents a $75bn sector (2018), but, by 2025, it’s predicted to grow to become a $153.7bn market, driven primarily by airports and Asia.

With over 14.2% growth in sales over the last year, Asia Pacific is expected to account for more than half of all Travel Retail sales within two years.

The top 10 operators generate 40% of all sales, and the top 100 airports account for 70% of total business, creating an increasingly challenging market to compete within for brands and retailers alike.

People have three priorities when clearing security:

  1. Where’s my gate?
  2. Where’s the nearest power socket?
  3. What’s the WiFi?

For almost all brands, capturing shopper attention before they’re lost to their devices is critical, regardless of category. But, understanding shoppers and what will resonate with them within travel retail can be difficult.

Passengers can be defined by the amount of time they have to spend, whether they’re rushed or have time to spare, as well as what kind of trip they’re taking, just as much as their age, budget, and socio-economic status.


As a general rule across all retail, customers purchase very few items and prioritise speed above everything. Any aspect of the shopping experience that unduly slows them down risks a loss of sale. In travel retail, with the limited time available and the fact shopping is often a third or fourth priority for passengers, it becomes even more critical.

The Golden Hour, where shoppers have cleared the stresses of security and check-in and are waiting to board, remains a crucial period for brands and retailers to capitalise on a captive audience. Despite its label however, research shows that brands and retailers typically have far less than one hour to encourage purchases. Nigel Dolby Consulting reported that in 2016, the average amount of time spent shopping across all categories in airports was a mere 29 minutes.

While some categories may have a higher or even lower shopping window, time restrictions make it challenging to maximise additional impulse sales or drive prolonged brand engagement which represent some of the largest opportunities across all sectors.


Space restrictions can make it extremely difficult to balance merchandising and experience. Within most global travel retail stores, counters and pop-ups are forced to operate in a restricted and often congested amount of space.

Balancing the ‘Trinity’ is a crucial challenge faced by many brands within travel retail when planning their activations. Brands are often dictated to by the retailer, who in turn is dictated to by the landlord and owner of the property. Dufry stores can range from 10m2 in size, right up to 3000m2, and often feature over 50,000 different products at a given location.

When space availability is limited, and product choice is vast, it becomes difficult but even more vital that brands provide shoppers with a compelling and relevant reason to buy, and deliver it in ways which are less reliant on and dictated by the spaces available to them. Customers also may not be able to carry everything they want to buy, which can make for difficult choices as to where to spend their money.


Only 6% of people now believe duty-free offers the best prices. 52% know they can find a better price online or on the high street.

The duty-free price advantage continues to become less attractive.

The price advantage available from not having to pay tax on purchases was a core reason to buy when travelling for most shoppers. However, digital price transparency and the growth of online retailers are now leading many shoppers to opt to buy online instead of in the airport.

Research by price comparison site PriceSpy found that on average only 10% of products were cheaper in duty-free than on the high street or online. However, research by Telegraph Travel disputes this, claiming their study found that they were, in fact, cheaper. While both sides can be argued, the more important aspect is the impact e-commerce and high street discounts are having on driving uncertainty, and when shoppers feel a sense of uncertainty, they’re far less likely to buy.

The value proposition, purely when you think of the price, was the original motivator, but that’s eroded over time. There are several reasons behind that, whether it be the abolition of intra-EU dutyfree, the rise of the supermarkets discounting on product lines like alcohol, or the advent of Amazon and smartphones that provide people with the ability to instantly compare prices

Alex Avery, MD at Pragma Consulting

Changing Demographics

By 2030, Asian Pacific countries will have seen a growth of their middle-classes of over 500% in the 20 years up to 2030 – OECD.

The rising number of middle-class populations and rapid urbanisation are propelling the growth of the global duty-free and travel retail market, with increases in disposable income, improvement of living standards, and the affordability of air travel all helping to boost the numbers of middle-class travellers.

Perhaps most interesting however are the continually emerging countries such as India and China, where middle-class consumers are the largest contributors to the economic development and therefore have the spending capacity to promote the growth of the duty-free industry in the global market.

The OECD projects that the world population will grow to over 8.2 billion by 2030 and that China and India will be home to roughly two-thirds of the global middle-class. By then, some estimates suggest Asian-Pacific (APAC) countries will have seen a growth in their middle-classes by over 500%  in the 20 years up to 2030, compared with 2% growth in Europe and a decline of nearly 5% in America.

Experiential Growth

67% of brand-side marketers anticipate a growth in their experiential budgets over the next 18 months.

Our own research has identified that for most brand owners, achieving penetration is often one of the hardest battles within global travel retail. Not only getting passengers into the relevant parts of the store, but ensuring their brand is seen amongst the noise of other activations continues to become more challenging than ever.

As such, we expect the need to capture attention and drive engagement will lead to the continued adoption of experiential activations.

Experiential activations are a useful means for helping brands reach their goals of audience engagement, brand awareness and more, and explains why, amongst respondents surveyed, budgets have grown for the past three years and show no signs of stopping.

Factor in the larger opportunity for human to human interaction and experiential activations represent an opportunity for many brands to connect with their audiences in a more meaningful way. Something often overlooked in an increasingly digital-centric world, and one which we believe will grow in prominence.

Continued Digitalisation

In the 12 weeks leading up to a trip, there are 3 times more experiences searches than hotel searches, and 8 times more experience searches than air searches.

The prevalence of digital touch-points throughout the shopper journey will continue to change the way people shop in travel retail as well as the opportunities presented to brands for engagement.

Digital formats allow brands the opportunity to not be constrained by the challenges of purely physical activations, and instead, capitalise on the limitless potential of immersive digital experiences.

Activations in-airport are already incorporating the use of VR and other technologies, but perhaps a more notable shift may be as brands expand their experiences outside of the terminal building, using the full path to purchase as a method for priming their audiences before their airport arrival.

Travel Retail continues to be a growing, effective channel for engaging with, and introducing brands to consumers around the world.

While we’ve provided an overview of a selection of notable themes impacting this diverse channel, from our research we believe there are 5 stand-out elements for consideration to best capitalise on the opportunities within Global Travel Retail.

Think Omnichannel

The growth in digital touchpoints continues to offer significant opportunities for brands throughout the whole traveller journey. From booking, through to travelling to the airport, to checking-in and transiting through general duty-free, down to following customers onto their flights, and being there as they arrive at their destinations.

Priming passengers, introducing them to your campaign prior to them arriving at the airport has the added effect of increasing the likelihood of activation recognition once in the terminal building. The colours, the tone, the messaging can all be used throughout the journey to encourage  familiarity with the brand and concept, and increase passengers likelihood to engage with your primary activation once there.

Think Added Value

The challenges of price, space, and time, are making it more challenging than ever to keep travel retail activations commercially viable.

To succeed, therefore, brands should continue to create retailtainment, and immersive, compelling experiences for passengers, but, at the most effective price points. Innovative materials, digital content, and newer cost-effective methods of personalisation can all help to provide higher value for shoppers, encouraging purchases, but without the higher cost associated with more traditional promotions such as gift with purchase.

Think Asia-Pacific

The growth in the Asia-Pacific middle class may represent one of the most promising opportunities for western brands to capitalise on over the next decade.

Where relevant, brands must keep this audience in mind, and capitalise on the Asia Pacific market, and in particular, their propensity for gifting purchases and items which demonstrate the places they’ve visited. Two vital Asia-Pacific shopper missions, which, while not fully expanded upon within this document, were identified from our research.

Think Brand Experiences

As price and space restrictions erode travel retails effectiveness at showcasing mass products/ranges, we believe it will become even more critical for activations to build brand equity, helping customers understand and engage with brands’ histories, stories, as well as the requirement to drive sales.

The use of engaging, disruptive displays and experiences with less of an emphasis on driving immediate sales will become more prevalent, particularly across categories which suffer from high price comparisons or where shoppers may be restricted in the quantities available to purchase, such as alcohol.

Think Traveller Mindset

Psychologically when travelling, brands almost couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.

Holidaymakers, in particular, having spent money and time looking forward to the trip itself, are in the mindset to spend. To capitalise, brands must create a point of difference by playing to the emotions of travellers to instil a greater sense of desirability in their products.

To capitalise on most scenarios, it’s important not to overlook the basics – brands must ensure their products are always visible and easy to find, that their displays house merchandise within arm’s reach of shoppers, anything too high or too low can be a significant detriment, and the best-sellers are always displayed most prominently as they will have the highest likelihood of driving sales.

But, for every brief, it’s essential to ensure audiences are fully understood, and the mindsets and emotions they’re likely to be feeling are identified to ensure activations best meet their needs.

One opportunity we’re seeing more of are brands seeking collaborative activations between complementary brands/products. For those travellers seeking a new holiday look, cosmetics and perfume dual activations can help encourage multiple purchases. Similarly, confectionery and alcohol may best meet the needs of those passengers in the mood to indulge.

As experts in airside brand delivery, we’ve built our reputation on successfully landing first class travel retail activations, imaginatively, consistently, safely, and globally.

We have the experience to understand the challenges you face and keep pace with the changes in airport regulations. Simply put, we deliver inspirational retail environments. 

Let’s talk about your GTR needs and how we can best help you!