Few things suggest that travel retail is returning to normal like the presence of an exciting, high-profile tender. The announcement by Aena of the “world’s biggest tender” at the start of this year seemed to offer just that. But now, with the details in the open and the tender in motion, I must confess I am disappointed.
Throughout the Covid pandemic, which closed much of our industry and led to large amounts of much-needed self-assessment, the travel retail industry seemed to agree that a new, vibrant and flexible business model was needed to take the market into the future. I fear this discussion still remains just words in many places.
The future of our market must be joint ventures and collaborations. But the travel retail market is so slow on the uptake and this tender shows clear signs of clinging to the way we did business before Covid-19.
Is this a model which really speaks to the needs of the modern traveller? I am not sure. On paper, the opportunity is a great one, it is a chance to plant a flag in a new market. But doing so with a long-term contract under a business model which is very much dated, seems to me to be a risk.
It was no surprise to see Gebr Heinemann, the family-owned German retailer, step away from the tender citing “red lines” it would not cross. While the Aena model clearly does not match Heinemann’s chosen co-operative approach, their withdrawal also highlights the potential commercial challenges of this tender. Like many, Heinemann has been battered by the impact of Covid and the war in Ukraine. Could it be that the offer in Spain, while attractive, is one risk too far?