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The last 12 months have been tough for duty free and travel retail in the Middle East and Africa. As MEAFDA President Sean Staunton confirmed, turnover fell by 2.6% in the first half of 2016. This comes on top of flat sales in 2015, and Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman Colm McLoughlin revealed the retailer’s own takings at the largest airport in the region had likewise slipped 3%. While DDF is adapting its promotional strategy to counter the trend, travel and tourism fundamentals remain strong. UNWTO Director, Middle East Amr Abdel-Gaffar gave an uplifting assessment of the rise in tourism throughout the region. Against average annual growth in traveller numbers of 3-4% worldwide, the Middle East is expected to achieve 7% by 2030. And at around $150, spend per head among Middle Eastern passengers is nearly twice that of Europeans and Asians.
Addressing the digital debate that still tops duty free and travel retail’s to-do list, Lagardère Travel Retail Chairman and CEO Dag Rasmussen stressed the importance of engaging Millennial travellers well before they enter airport stores and of continuing the conversation afterwards in an omni-channel approach. Aer Rianta International CEO Jack MacGowan saw the delivery of surprising, memorable experiences for shoppers as the priority, with clearer pricing and exclusive products playing an important role. In the first of two fascinating presentations on Middle Eastern Millennials, Google Dubai Senior Industry Analyst, Travel Vrinda Singh emphasised how this generation prizes experiential interaction with brands. Elena Nikolova, founder of MuslimTravelGirl.com, then described how her contemporaries enjoy technology, travel and brands as much as their non-Muslim counterparts, doing so within the boundaries of their faith. Younger, travel-hungry consumers will be crucial to the future of duty free and travel retail in Africa, too. With tourism recovering gradually from reverses in Egypt and Tunisia, Flemingo’s Paul Topping expressed his optimism for this continent of contrasting markets, and Suzie Wokabi, creator of Kenya’s first make-up and beauty brand SuzieBeauty, said rising incomes made it a great time to be doing business in Africa.