Airports & Travel RetailersBlog

Introduction by: Peter Marshall

This article by Garry Stasiulevicuis of Pi Insight simply asks the question: are airports losing out because they are prioritising ‘engagement zones’ to enhance the passenger experience? He makes a very elegant argument that this may well be the case and that airports need to strike a delicate balance between entertainment and retail in order to protect their non-aeronautical levels and maintain –  or even improve –  on the existing footfall expectations. How? Simply by collaborating more with their retail partners to enhance the overall shopping ‘experience’. 

The air travel experience has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Airports worldwide have invested heavily in creating lavish Instagram-worthy engagement zones that captivate passengers and make waiting for a flight more enjoyable.

However, this shift raises a critical question: has the growth of in-airport entertainment damaged travel retail? As passengers are drawn to these enticing attractions, are they spending less time—and money—in duty-free stores? This article delves into this intriguing issue, exploring various examples and considering whether airports should instead collaborate more with their retail partners to enhance the shopping experience.

The Rise of In-Airport Entertainment

Airports have evolved from mere transit hubs to destinations in their own right. Some of the most notable examples are the Jewel and Singapore Changi and Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. This airport features a jungle boardwalk with a tropical rainforest experience, various art exhibitions, and relaxation lounges. These attractions make it a memorable place to wait for a flight.

Other airports have followed suit. Incheon International Airport in South Korea boasts an ice skating rink, a golf course, and a Korean cultural street. Hamad International Airport in Doha features a swimming pool, a wellness spa, and interactive art installations. These facilities are designed to enhance the passenger experience, making time in the airport less tedious and more enjoyable.

The Impact on Travel Retail

While these zones have undoubtedly enhanced the overall airport experience, they may also be inadvertently harming travel retail. Duty-free stores are clearly a significant revenue source for airports. However, with passengers increasingly drawn to entertainment areas, footfall in retail stores is not keeping pace with growing passenger numbers.

Everyone appreciates that non-aeronautical revenue, which includes retail, food and beverage, and parking, accounts for about 40% of an airport’s total income (ACI). Duty-Free and Travel Retail shopping, a major component of this revenue stream, relies heavily on passenger footfall. As these entertainment zones become more prevalent, there is a clear case that travellers are spending less time shopping.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s Impact

Kuala Lumpur International Airport serves as a prime example. With its jungle boardwalk, art exhibitions, and relaxation lounges, it has become a major attraction, drawing visitors whenever they travel through. However, its impact on the airport’s duty-free sales is less clear. While the airport authorities report an increase in overall passenger satisfaction and engagement, there is a question of whether the same positive impact can be seen among the many retailers and their sales.

The key issue is one of dwell-time. Passengers have a finite amount of time pre-flight or during transfers, and time spent exploring the airport’s attractions is time not spent shopping. Moreover, the allure of exciting (And mostly free) entertainment and attractions can overshadow the appeal of duty-free shopping, which often requires a financial outlay.

Other Examples and Trends

Similar trends can be seen in other major airports. At Incheon International Airport, the focus on cultural experiences and leisure activities detracts passengers from allocating shopping time in their airport visit. In Doha, Hamad International Airport’s art installations and wellness facilities provide immersive experiences that keep passengers occupied for extended periods.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is another example. With its branch of the Rijksmuseum, an airport library, an indoor park with relaxing spaces and multimedia activities, and a kids’ forest play area, Schiphol offers numerous distractions that could potentially impact retail footfall.

While passenger numbers have increased globally post-pandemic, the average spend per passenger in duty-free stores has not kept pace. This disparity suggests that while more people are travelling, they are not necessarily spending more on retail, potentially due to the diversion of their attention while in the airport.

The Retail Experience: A Missed Opportunity?

Given the trend towards in-airport entertainment, one might argue that airports should invest similar effort into bringing more of this entertainment and immersive experience into retail. Could retailers and airports collaborate more than they currently do to create shopping environments that are just as engaging and attractive as the entertainment zones?

For instance, duty-free stores could incorporate more interactive elements, such as virtual try-ons for cosmetics and fashion, the introduction of augmented reality experiences, or simply bring more engagement, education, and interaction to the purchase process in key categories.

Successful Retail Innovations

Some airports and retailers have already provided good experiences. London Heathrow’s personal shopping services and luxury boutiques offer a more tailored shopping experience.

Dubai International Airport, known for its extensive duty-free areas, enjoys great levels of engagement in its regular raffles and promotions because they create a sense of excitement and inclusivity of entertainment and shopping.

Balancing Entertainment and Retail

Ultimately, the key is finding a balance between entertainment and retail. Airports need to ensure that while passengers are entertained, they are also provided with compelling reasons to visit duty-free stores. This might involve strategic placement of retail outlets near the entertainment zones or, more likely to succeed, integrating retail into the entertainment experience.

For example, pop-up shops located within or near entertainment areas could attract more visitors. Retailers could also sponsor attractions or events, subtly promoting their products while engaging passengers. Interactive retail displays within entertainment zones can blend shopping with leisure (and food and beverage), capturing the attention of travellers without pulling them away from the attractions.


The growth of in-airport entertainment zones has undoubtedly transformed the air travel experience, making it more enjoyable and engaging for passengers. However, this shift has also raised concerns about its impact on travel retail. As passengers spend more time in these zones, footfall in duty-free stores may not keep pace, directly impacting revenue.

To mitigate this, airports and retailers must collaborate more to create equally compelling retail experiences. By integrating interactive elements, leveraging technology, and strategically positioning retail outlets, airports can ensure that shopping remains an integral part of the passenger journey. Balancing entertainment and retail is crucial to maintaining and enhancing non-aeronautical revenue streams, ultimately benefiting both airports and their retail partners.


Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
Back to top button