Posted April 23rd, 2015

With the number of international tourist arrivals passing the 1 million mark in 2012 and forecast to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, it’s little wonder that many businesses are starting to invest heavily in the Travel Retail channel.  The expenditure of international travellers totalled $1159 billion in 2013 and the airport segment of travel retail alone is estimated to reach  $100 billion market within the next 10 years. Dubbed the ‘sixth continent’ by Pernod Ricard and L’Oreal, who recently set up a dedicated travel retail division, more and more businesses are recognising the value of the ‘global shop window’ and placing more emphasis on this unique channel.

Of course, this means an increasing number of brands all vying for travellers’ attention, requiring them to offer international passengers something new and unexpected.

Outstanding theatrical activations that encourage travellers’ to experience and try a product are a highly effective means of building excitement and driving significant footfall to stores. Get the brand story right using a highly engaging activation and the product sales can soar. But with so many heavy rules and regulations unique to the travel retail channel, planning and implementing experiential activity within the airport environment can seem daunting to the uninitiated or inexperienced.

By following five simple rules, brands can ensure their promotion is the one that sticks in travellers’ minds and creates a tipping point for purchase:

1.Create a hook

Straightforward ‘product in hand’ sampling no longer cuts the mustard.  Best-in-class airport activation will catch travellers’ eyes, hook them in and drive interaction.  Focusing on getting the brand story right from the moment a traveller sees the activity, through to their first brand interaction and finally their purchase, will help to draw travellers’ attention, fully immerse them in the brand and ultimately drive sales.

A good example of this would be Brown-Forman’s American Whiskey Bar – a beautiful experience that told the story of their range of American Whiskies. Mad Men-esque design, nosing bottles and vintage 1960s bar items – the brand story was clearly conveyed in every tiny detail which ensured the activity caught travellers’ eyes and drew them in to an interactive, premium brand experience.

2. Maximise engagement

The best experiential activity in any environment should have high engagement levels at its core. With travel retail, not only are there high numbers of brands all competing in a small space, there are also dozens of rules and regulations around activating in the airport arena. Brands should think outside of the box and work with the travel retailers, WDF, Nuance, Aelia, Dufry to find new and different ways to tell their brand story within the limited spaces available.

Oreo’s recent ‘Dunk4Fun’ activity at Frankfurt Airport used the space outside the main confectionary offering to create a visually striking display and drove engagement by encouraging travellers to play their Connect-4 style ‘Dunk4Fun’ game and have their photo taken with the life-size Oreo mascot. Alcohol brands have introduced the theatre of mixology to airport users, allowing choice, discovery and a more personal experience. Brown-Forman are a good example of this; rather than a sample of the liqueur, whiskey or spirit, they now mix up jugs of cocktails which are more visually appealing and have bar menus for travellers to decide for themselves which serve to try.

3. Offer something new and useful

There’s no denying that tried and tested 2-for-1s, GWPs and BOGOFs all help as an incentive to buy in any purchase environment.  But these days consumers are looking for something a little more inspirational, exclusive, enriching and educational, and this is the same for travellers. Within travel retail, many alcohol brands are fast moving away from the standard purchase incentives and offer instead insight incentives i.e. how to make the best cocktails, revealing ‘tricks of the trade’ for your next dinner party.  Travellers feel closer to the brand, more immersed in their brand story and more willing to keep purchasing the product at home.

4. Encourage social sharing

As with any brand experience, ‘socialising experiential’ in the travel retail environment is key. Brands that tell their story through a unique and engaging experience and provide a means of social sharing will ensure their story is shared, told and told again, way beyond the confines of the airport.

Many brands activating in airports capitalise on the check-in and photo sharing trend like Beefeater Gin’s Spirit of London experience at Gatwick which encouraged travellers to upload photos of their Beefeater Gin experience at the stand to Instagram using #SpiritofLondon ( and travellers willingly take part. But the best activations use technology and social media in a more innovative way. Absolut Vodka recently celebrated the launch of their Absolut Andy Warhol edition by using cutting-edge facial recognition technology to take travellers’ faces and display them as a Warhol-style reflection. The finished pop-art style image could be emailed on and shared across social media.

5. Ensure a strong ROI

Showcasing a product and creating a unique brand experience is all well and good but ultimately it needs to deliver a strong ROI. Sales volume is crucial and good travel retail activity will often achieve double-digit increases. Following the simple rules above – creating a hook, maximising engagement, offering something new, encouraging social sharing – and working more closely with the travel retailers to push the boundaries and tell your brand story in the most creative, effective and engaging way, will ensure your activity delivers the strong sales increase required.