A tale of transformation

A few years ago, my then boss and I found ourselves in the departure lounge at Delhi International Airport. As was our customary task when travelling, we made a thorough assessment of the duty free offer. It took about three and a half minutes. I particularly remember seeing a gleaming new gondola by Rémy Martin Cognac, shining like a beacon amid the half-finished furniture elsewhere in the store. Unlike most of the shelves, the Rémy gondola was fully stocked – not with finest Cognac however, but with Kit Kats.

This week marks my first visit to India since those days. Much remains as I remember it; the people are just as welcoming, the food is as good as ever and the blaring of car horns is still the soundtrack to an average day. But in terms of the aviation industry, and airport retail in particular, my previous visit might as well have been made during the Jurassic era. India is finally getting the infrastructure she deserves, and which is a pre-requisite for the economic growth forecast.

I’m writing from Bangalore, where Bangalore International Airport Ltd pioneered the public-private partnership format that has allowed India’s airports to flourish at last. The retail mix features a solid, well-stocked duty free outlet operated by Nuance, including a varied mix of Scotch whiskies so beloved of the Indian travelling public. A tasting bar, set to open during the coming week, will add a nice touch to a liquor section that is a far cry from Indian duty free as I remember it back in the Jurassic age.

The same could be said, of course, for the offer in Delhi’s new terminal three, where Delhi Duty Free has done much to banish memories of the bad old days of Indian duty free. It’s heartening to see how brands have supported the fledgling business after years of (understandable) reluctance to invest in India, and one cannot overstate the role of Delhi Duty Free shareholder Aer Rianta International – along with that of DFS in Mumbai – in providing the reassurance required.

The Style I eyewear and watch store at Delhi T3

It’s heartening, too, to witness at first hand the importance of retail to the domestic terminals I have visited so far. India, like China, boasts practically limitless potential in domestic air travel, but the retail offer for national travellers had been poor, if it existed at all. Not any more. Delhi T3 isn’t perfect – no terminal is – but it offers all travellers, regardless of destination, a mix of affordable retail and F&B brands that encourages exploration. As these pictures illustrate, the domestic departure lounge is bright and open, and features aspirational but accessible brands such as Swarovski and Mango. And the Style I eyewear and watches store offers an impressive array of brands from across the price spectrum.

A representative from a very upscale luxury brand once told me: “Indian travel retail is a train that we all want to get on; we just don’t know when.” This is still a young market, and many brands will justifiably conclude that the time is not quite right yet. But at least the train is moving, and in the right direction.

Mango and Accessorize at Delhi T3

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