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Airports & Travel RetailersBlog

By: Cristina Alcivar

The struggle and payoff of setting up a retail store in an airport are full of travel predicaments, such as delays and canceled flights. But, these days, the hundreds of thousands of people not walking by storefronts leaves no captive audience to buy. 

Airports worldwide are wondering how to repurpose themselves and reimagine the passenger experience.  Brick-and-mortar stores are struggling; some are not even open, some closed forever. Reduced passenger volumes have activated a structural change in the industry for new commercial models.

What about The Airport Spa? 

Airport spas are one of those retailers that have suffered from a bad reputation. But usually, bad-mouthing does come from somewhere. Some have never even heard of airport spas; most would say they are terrible, few travelers would say a memorable experience. Many ask how much revenue they generate to justify them being in an airport. Perhaps it is just because spas at airports were never a great business from the start.

According to Doug Satzman,the CEO of XpresSpa the business of spas at airports no longer makes sense.   I recently listened to XpresSpa Group – Fourth Quarter 2020 Earnings Conference Call, and only 3 of its global spas are open. 

Like many businesses, XpresSpa has pivoted to survive. It looks like they are attempting to leave the “spa business” to fee-based medical services. In the case of XpresSpa, it seems like they are changing their whole business, branding, and benefits. 

I recently co-hosted a live Webinar where we listened to three global airport spa operators.  According to these airport industry operators, the consensus seems to be unaligned with XpresSpa’s decision not to open more than three stores. 

But why?  Many would ask how a spa operates during a period where PPE protocols? Don’t Covid protocols  imply that spa services are neither warranted nor desired by passengers? 

The live webinar adequately summed up that spa services are still desired and needed. That today’s customers want to feel well and happy, no matter the circumstances. 

PHOTO: Be Relax Spa shower services

As travel reopens and recovers, Wellness is the pivot to decipher the path for the global travel industry. Wellness services offer more convenient and compelling experiences. While, other retailers are focused on delivering hyper-convenient, zero-touch, frictionless experiences. 

Wellbeing is a need, perhaps a luxury to buy-a purchase of indulging in experiences that promote well-being and share those experiences with friends. 

Be Relax is one retailer that focuses on providing a holistic experience offering a variety of products and services to make a better journey.  Be Relax has made simple changes to its brick-and-mortar stores to make customers feel comfortable and indulged, which entices them to return.

For example, some of the company’s store now offers guests distinctive amenities such as steam room/shower facilities and healthy food snacks.  This spa is going beyond the basic back rub.

The Retail offering at spas 

Airport retail once enjoyed a captive audience.  Today that is no longer the case. Travelers are placing more value on health and wellness than on material products these days. So, it’s no surprise to see empty fashion retail units in the airport for quite some time now. 

Phil Kew, previously the Global Head of Planning and Pricing with the Nuance Group, Dufry and Aer Rianta International, stated in a www.trunblocked.com blog last year that he believes  the fashion retail space “is hanging by a thread.” 

Luxury at airports is no longer the purchase of an expensive bag or a bottle of perfume. However, it’s not just about buying the most expensive or the latest goods. It’s that luxury goods have taken a back seat to feel good. Consumers are showing an increasing preference to participate in activities and indulging in experiences that promote their well-being—and sharing those experiences with their friends.

What airport spas sell and how they are selling is worth noting. Many spas offer customer-trending beauty products that are clean, indie beauty finds.  For example, products that go beyond the conventional duty-free beauty brands. These products are specific to the product category of Indie beauty. 

PHOTO: D_partures spa retail at Newark Airport via Vane Airport Media

Another way airport spas accommodate customers’ focus on wellness is by offering unique travel retail products that are sustainable and local rather than solely a high-priced item. 

As part of its continued commitment to doing good in her community, NãSah’s Nurture Nature Spa offers products with a goodwill mission that help her local community.

PHOTO: NaSah’s Nurture Nature retail storefront Nashville International Airport

For example,  some “products sold include vegan and natural personal care products as well as local, small, and purposeful companies. Thistle Farms is one of our local and purposeful companies whose mission is to provide effective, lifelong support of women survivors of human trafficking, drug addiction, and prostitution. Chavez for Charity, Erase Hate, and Pinch Me Therapy Dough are other impactful products available at NaSah’s Nurture Nature,” Angela the owner shared with me.

Getting Pampered in a stressful environment will win. 

The airport environment is more stressful than ever and  it’s particularly important given that three-quarters (73%) of travellers worldwide will be prioritizing their mental wellbeing more when they travel again than they did before COVID-19.

People have become more conscious of the need to stay protected and healthy. Wellness must be an essential feature of airports. And mental health is a reason to justify the unification of wellness and the airport industry.

The Airport Spa market is rising like the Phoenix because it meets and exceeds travellers needs.  The insurgency of the coronavirus has opened people’s eyes towards the one true wealth they possess- their health and wellness. 

The Airport Spa sector is a crucial retail and services attribute of a purposeful Airport Wellness plan.  Today’s travelers will take a different approach to “Dwell Time” in 2021-indeed, Wellness will be pertinent-and relaxation and comfort desired. 

Airport spas are leading the structural shifts in the market with a holistic approach to layover. The dated spa that offers back rubs is no longer the norm.

 Today it’s about experiencing the new  “wellness facilities” at airports.  These “wellness facilities’ ‘ offer an ethical and sustainable etho, indie beauty products, and an array of self care services such as sleep solutions, healthy snacks and showers.  All these sum up  a new Airport Wellness retail mode.   

The future of Wellness Airports is beyond the spa. Wellness attributes are now a central factor of driving design, the operational ethos, and the balance of revenues in airports moving forward.

Peter Marshall

Founder: trunblocked.com/Marshall Arts

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