By Kevin Rozario (London, United Kingdom)
Norway’s airport operator Avinor issued tender documents in January for potential partners to run the retail business at its key commercial gateways, the biggest of which is Oslo Gardermoen Airport. The deadline for submissions is 23 April.
The state-controlled entity puts the value of the business at US$3.5 billion (€3 billion) over the lifetime of the five-year contract which runs from 2023 to 2027. The shop units covering 172,000 square feet are at the airports of Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim, Kristiansand, Ålesund, Tromsø, Bodø, Harstad/Narvik, Molde and Kristiansund. They all currently operate under the store fascia Taxfree Norway.
The tender process—first announced in mid-December—has been launched at a time when COVID19 is rampaging through Europe—and as Norway’s own traffic has collapsed.
In an early January virtual press briefing from Copenhagen, Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Europe said: “We remain in the grip of COVID19 as cases surge across Europe. This moment represents a tipping-point in the course of the pandemic.”
Avinor processed 20 million passengers in 2020, a decrease of 63% compared with 2019. The biggest fall was at Oslo Airport—the duty-free money-spinner in the portfolio—where just nine million passengers were welcomed compared with 28.6 million in 2019.
The Norwegian airport operator is highly-reliant on revenue from duty-free shopping: it accounted for 28% of operating income in 2019, but that slipped to 7.5% in the third quarter of 2020 as the pandemic hit air travel in Europe and worldwide.
The current incumbent, Travel Retail Norway (TRN), a joint venture backed by global travel retailer Gebr. Heinemann, has been very successful in pushing up that duty-free share from just 14% in 2005.
When Will Traffic Bounce Back?
Passenger recovery will be crucial to the success of the tender, but when that will be is unclear. Airports body, ACI Europe said in December: “More than 6,000 air routes previously operated from Europe’s airports (are) still not restored nine months into the COVID19 crisis.”
Interested travel retailers—likely to be majors like Dufry and Lagardère Travel Retail, but could include non-European players—will be pondering exactly how to price their bids in the face of the uncertain traffic environment. Retailers wanting full details of the tender terms, forecasts and deadlines can register here.
Heinemann, which recently opened stores at Berlin’s new, but much-delayed, airport in November will be defending its Norway business which has been lucrative for the German travel retailer over the years. contracts. Florian Seidel, vice president EMEA at the company said: “As the current tax free and Travel Value operator, we will certainly participate in the tender.”
Avinor’s executive vice president for commercial, Joachim Lupnaav Johnsen, said: “We have been very pleased with the current operator Travel Retail Norway. We will now enter the international market to ensure we get the best conditions and the best shops for the future. ”
Part of Avinor’s brief as a state-owned operator is to ensure the viability of the whole Norwegian airport network, given that many of the 44 locations it manages are loss-making. Duty-free sales ensure that this public mission can be achieved.
TRN operates retail outlets at Avinor’s largest international airports of Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim and Kristiansand. Avinor runs its own operations at the national airports of Bodø, Harstad/Narvik, Kristiansund, Molde, Tromsø and Ålesund, with Gebr. Heinemann acting as the wholesaler. These other airports have a 2% share of of Avinor’s total duty-free revenue.
According to TRN, almost 40% of its duty-free sales come from alcohol, due to the high duties applied in Norway (like most other Scandinavian countries); 21% from tobacco and 13% from confectionery. At Olso Airport, sales to international arriving passengers—mostly Norwegians—are particularly strong and represent more than 50% of the duty free business at the gateway.
As well as the pandemic, the duty-free tender comes as Avinor restructures as a direct result of lost revenue. That process will be led from February 15 by a new CEO Abraham Foss, who takes over from Dag Falk-Petersen who is retiring. Foss, a former CEO of telecoms player Telia Norge, has plenty of digital and operations experience.
In 2020, Avinor has been reliant on government grants to bolster the group’s equity and liquidity. In the third quarter 2020 that cushion led to an operating income fall of 56.4%, but without it the reduction would have been closer to 70%.
Avinor has also scaled back investments and by the end of September a total of 312 employees had been fully or partly furloughed, The company says it “will continuously assess its investment portfolio based on its current financial situation.”