Is a Lack of Retail Sales Data Holding Back Airport Sales?

Kevin Rozario


October 4, 2023

TFWA 2023 sunset LR

Cannes in the south of France is the annual meeting place for the global duty-free and travel retail industry.

© Kevin Rozario /

On Monday at the 38th TFWA World Exhibition & Conference—the annual event attended by the top airport retailers and landlords from around the world—TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen warned that a lack of data could be detrimental in protecting the industry going forward.

For some years now, the duty-free industry—a vital revenue generator for airports—has been flying relatively blind due to no coordinated efforts in pulling together global data from travel retailers.

Talking to over 1,000 conference attendees in Cannes, France, Juul-Mortensen said: “Nobody else is going to protect our industry—it’s up to us. The first requirement is data to communicate the size and economic benefits of what we do. I cannot think of any other sector that doesn’t have reliable data. The ETRC Index [which only covers Europe-Ed] is a model that we need in each region, and it’s only made possible by the data received from retailers.”

The TFWA President acknowledged that, as a concession-based business, global travel retailers, for example, Dufry, Lagardère Travel Retail, or Lotte Duty Free, were secretive about their sales data, but he said: “Surely we should all be able to agree to some parameters for sharing industry data at global and regional levels. If it can’t be this year’s data because of competition concerns, then let’s agree to provide data at region, channel, and category level with a three-year lag.”

He suggested retailers could start with pre-pandemic 2019 as a baseline and added that “it needs the leadership of the CEOs in this room to commit to that.” That is a problem because this is not the first time that such an appeal has been made and fallen on deaf ears. Airport retailers have remained entrenched in the idea of not collaborating on the data front.

The difference now—perhaps—is that the airport business is at a new, post-Covid juncture. Air travel is rising rapidly once more, but travel retail sales are not keeping up, and this is a pressing issue.

“That the market has changed since Covid has by now become a cliché, yet it remains true,” said Juul-Mortensen. “Travelers are returning but buying habits have evolved. Average transaction values have risen, but footfall and conversion statistics sometimes fall short of pre-pandemic levels.”

Resilience Coupled with Risks

While the president praised the strength shown by the industry in recent times in extremely challenging conditions, he cautioned that changes will have to be made throughout the industry.

TFWA 2023 LR Erik credit Nathalie Oundjian

TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen: “I cannot think of any other sector that doesn’t have reliable data.”

© Nathalie Oundjian / TFWA

“This last year has clearly demonstrated the resilience that our industry has shown time and again in the face of geopolitical and socio-economic challenges. We are witnessing a wave of creativity as retailers and brands address demographic shifts and the new awareness of our planet’s fragility. But is there a risk we are living in a bubble of self-congratulation?” he said.

The president said that the industry needed to go further with its sustainability efforts and not just have isolated displays showcasing products that are tagged as good for the environment. “What does that say to our customers? That 1% of our offer is sustainable and the rest is not? We need to be more ambitious,” he said.

And in relation to data, Juul-Mortensen pointed to threats coming from lobbies, in particular the World Health Organization which is targeting the duty-free and travel retail industry on protocols related to the illicit trade in tobacco products and could eventually also extend to the confectionery category, both core to the duty-free business. Without good data to counter these attacks, the industry could find itself on the back foot.

Juul-Mortensen commented: “We need to reinforce our credibility and clearly and publicly position ourselves as a model business, committing to the values that governments, regulators—and our customers—want to see: authenticity, trading honestly, and taking a zero-tolerance approach to illicit trading, counterfeiting, and intellectual property theft. These criminal activities cost industries like duty-free millions every year in lost sales opportunities.”