A guest blog from Sally Alington, managing director, Blackjack Promotions

As has been shown by Heathrow Airport‘s marketing over the past 18 months or so, Travel Retail is presenting a serious challenge to the high street. Not only does it now stock a wide range of brands at lower prices, but it also offers brand owners an extremely targeted audience to market to. Indeed, with around 65.9 million people passing through Heathrow last year (source: Civil Aviation Authority's Annual Airport Statistics for 2010), the sector represents an increasingly strong environment for direct consumer contact.

Furthermore, the insight brands can get from knowing who’s travelling when and to where, has become a powerful part of the sector’s appeal. Being able to accurately predict the type of people likely to be shopping at any one point means brands are able to change promotional slots as frequently as required to most effectively target specific categories or lines that they know sell well to different nationalities or travel groups – what other retail environment can offer this?

This targeting can even help brands right down to ensuring additional language speakers are deployed at key times to increase the effectiveness of campaigns. For example, during a recent activity for Estee Lauder over Chinese New Year, three dedicated Mandarin speakers were provided at Heathrow, producing a marked increase in revenue over the five-day period.

While knowing which audiences are coming through, where to take them, what to sample and what language skills to offer is crucial for brands, it’s not just a case of putting a few extra sales staff into a Travel Retail environment and hoping for the best. Instead, brands need to invest in creating an activity that really grabs people’s attention.

Traditionally travel retail activity has been conservative, covering basic sampling and perfume cards, but more and more brands and retailers are using the space to create brand experiences. Passengers can now expect to be treated to staged events such as dancing, bands, DJs or even a catwalk show. A great example of this was the Brugal Rum launch that featured a salsa band and dancers around a sampling bar. As a direct result of this type of activity retailers are seeing a massive impact on incremental sales demonstrating just how effective this integrated approach can be.

However, while you have to do something different to capture passengers’ imagination in this environment, it doesn’t have to be about sampling, it can just be about having a powerful presence. Zurich‘s Help Points in Heathrow T1 and Frankfurt are a perfect example of this. There is no mention of selling insurance, but instead a warm welcome and concierge service focused on the passenger experience. The success of this brand exposure and contribution to raising the brand’s profile has been immense, in fact what started as a three-month project is now entering its third year.


Of course, Travel Retail is not without its challenges, the biggest of which revolve around airline restrictions, such as Ryan Air’s hand luggage limits. Trying to convince someone to buy a litre of alcohol when they might face a £35 charge to put it in the hold can be tricky. However, there are ways round this. Most of the major airports, for example, provide a ‘shop & collect’ or ‘collect on return’ service whereby passengers can leave anything they buy tax-free in the store and collect it on their return to the country.

A further challenge seems to be the ever-decreasing passenger dwell time in the lounge which has been hit with increased security restrictions and unallocated seating on-board which sends passengers straight towards the gates and eats into shopping time.  Strategic and impactful campaigns are therefore essential for brands to capitalise on the time available.


Despite this, Travel Retail offers one of the few remaining environments with a strong bias towards direct consumer contact; the big supermarkets no longer have the investment in relationship between the staff and the consumer, for example. This means it offers a massive advantage to brands and the unique opportunity to get product into people’s hands. L’Oreal emphasised this when it launched its Maison Martin Margiela untitled fragrance only in T5 and Selfridges, further adding to the exclusivity of Travel Retail.

Ultimately, to take full advantage of Travel Retail, brands need to work with specialists as they are restricted with space and time, but with targeted interaction and sampling they can make a huge impression and deliver impressive results.