The Sixth Continent

Airside's data-driven retail space


‘For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.’ Leonardo da Vinci’s imagination knew few bounds, but his notes and sketches on flight give no indication as to whether even he could have seen what the future would make of the space between that longing and its final satisfaction, the time it takes from walking to flying, that sliver of existence now so explored – mined, enriched, enlarged – as to qualify, to paraphrase L’Oreal’s Barbara Lavernos, as being a continent in its own right.

It’s a metaphor, of course, but only just, and not nearly as rhetorical as it might first appear. The world of departures – of the duty free, of travel retail – is the tiny and narrow walkway along which 15 per cent of the globe’s population wander, its enforced wait softened and stimulated by the opportunity to shop, eat and drink. Last year a billion people spent nearly £31 billion in travel retail. In 2019, that will have risen to around £64 billion, which to put things in context is the net worth of Facebook. Easy to see why Lavernos should have labelled it the sixth continent – officially also ferries, ships and border stores, but in reality a market dominated by airports.

While I’m old enough to have witnessed a get-what-you’re-given bargain bucket culture of stacks of fags and booze become one of retail’s fastest growing sectors, my real education as to the Final Frontier-type uniqueness of this new continent begins with a bottle of whisky; namely, the Glenmorangie Dornoch. One of travel retail’s latest offerings, and which at the time of writing stands as malt of the month at World Duty Free Group’s (WDFG) specialist whisky outlet World of Whiskies. I had the opportunity to taste it pre-release, and chased up its progress in December.

Briefly, the Dornoch, another Bill Lumsden creation, was always in the making – with or without travel retail. Lumsden already had the final spirit in the bag when approached by WDFG at the Tax Free Association World Exhibition in Cannes. However, being both limited in stock and persuaded of the view that it’s name and back story, which pays tribute to the estuary the distillery overlooks, would prove a best fit, says Lumsden, for “whisky connoisseurs as they make their own journey through travel retail.” Glenmorangie handed WDFG a small coup, agreeing to make it exclusive to the company for two months, after which it would become available across travel retail.

I say coup, but as Glenmorangie well knows, suppliers are falling over themselves to get at a slice of the travel retail cake. Parent company LVMH reports its travel retail arm Selective Retailing as being the fastest growing part of the business. More pertinently, wine and spirits in general constitutes nearly a fifth of said cake, and if any of the other travel retailers’ figures break down anything close to those of WDFG’s, then it’s wet with whisky. According to Nigel Sandals, Liquor Buying Manager for WDFG UK, whisky accounts for 45 per cent of its liquor sales, half of which is in the single malt category. In fact, adds Sandals, ‘World Duty Free Group UK sells 25 per cent of all single malt retailed in the UK.’ Please reread that last sentence slowly.

<For full text, see Whisky Magazine>