From good to great

gohelKapila Gohel, editor, DFNI 

Traveling to the U.S. has not traditionally been an easy ride for international travelers — or, indeed, domestic passengers — with many airports still in desperate need of an update in infrastructure, while intense security protocols can often make for an unpleasant experience. The North American travel-retail landscape should be leading the way. However, despite finding ample food and beverage choices, international travelers have been left wanting for an engaging retail offer.

Despite leading the world in its sophisticated retail marketplaces in the domestic channel to online retail, the U.S.’s advancement in the retail arena has stopped short in travel-retail, and Americans are looking at global standards in Europe and Asia for inspiration.

That inspiration is rapidly progressing to fruition, with smaller airports following suit of early adopters that have already developed U.S. airport retail environments that compete on the global playing field. Airports like Los Angeles International, San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Miami, and Vancouver have recognized the opportunity to generate non-aviation revenue, and mid-size airports are doing the same. Just look at Denver International, which has finally brought a world-class standard of duty-free that travelers have been waiting for.

As retailers operating in the region have told DFNI, retail is no longer an afterthought at airports, and new terminals are being developed with retail in mind. The higher standards of retail are key to attracting more international airlines and routes to the airport. It is a symbiotic relationship.

Moreover, it is not just the duty-free offer being developed. Domestic U.S. travelers are seeing their fair share in major duty-paid advancements with more space and thought allocated to fashion boutiques and the duty-paid offer. In fact, some global retailers have described the U.S. as an “emerging market” for travel-retail. ATíœ Duty Free, which last year won the contract to operate duty-free in Texas at Houston George Bush International airport, described the U.S. as an emerging market in terms of airports, but a very high-value market with high-profile customers.

The domestic opportunity is huge with its large population with a high level of income and a standard of living that promotes travel.

Travel to the U.S. from an international perspective is becoming a more welcoming experience, while the retail offer is beginning to show the best of international brands as well as a local offering that does the great continent true justice. Relationships between airports and their concessionaires have never been better in the region, as prominent players in the industry continue to tell us. However, a stronger alignment between airport authorities, airlines, retail operators, and suppliers must continue to move airport retail in the U.S. from good to great.