From Punta Cana to Panama

This week The Moodie Davitt Report has a different interim bureau almost every day, as our roving takes us around the Caribbean, Central America and the USA. We’re making a whirlwind tour of some of Duty Free Americas’ (DFA) most important airport sites in the region, and spending time with owners the Falic family in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic Panama and (later this week) Miami.

The trip will culminate in the company’s fifth annual charity golf event at Doral on Thursday, in aid of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, with strong industry support pledged. Details at this link.

We’ve been hearing about the family company’s plans to further diversify their retail business into new channels and to expand their footprint in existing territories (more soon). And we’ve been hearing about (and meeting) some of the next generation of the family that will take it forward. Watch out for details online and in our March print magazine.

Wood and stone: The natural backdrop to DFA’s store signage at Punta Cana Airport, Terminal A.

I began on Sunday with a quickfire overnight visit to Punta Cana, home to one of the region’s most identifiable airports; local stone and cane are the dominant design components, and the effect offers a lovely Sense of Place at the country’s largest airport.

It’s a destination that is wonderfully international. There’s a strong US visitor population of course, but direct flights to many western European cities add a different element to the customer mix, with Russian traffic (many connecting in Paris) on the sharp rise too.

Local cane is a signature element in the construction of the terminal.

That all presents a healthy customer base for DFA at both terminals – the airport is owned by family-controlled Grupo Punta Cana, which is also central to the development of tourism in this area on the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic.

The impressive DFA walk-through store in Terminal A, led by a luxury offer that flows into P&C and liquor & tobacco on either side of a wide aisle.

DFA runs 16 stores plus a bar at the airport, with the highlight a walk-though store in Terminal A, a facility which handles around 70% of the traffic.

The store here has been designed well, with wide aisles for ease of access and sight lines through to all categories and to the back of the shop, strong merchandising across luxury, P&C, liquor, tobacco and confectionery, with digital walls and signage offering quality branding opportunities.

Multiple campaigns, tastings and samplings mean that engagement levels are high, and even at busy times (things were just ramping up as we toured) the retailer ensures all cash tills are manned in an attempt to avoid queues developing. (More on this location will follow in our full report).

Front and centre: The DFA stores sit in the traveller’s eye line as they emerge from security control at Tocumen International, T1.
The DFA store fronts are ‘dressed’ in eye-catching images of popular Panamanian destinations.

Where Punta Cana is a destination, Panama’s Tocumen International is a buzzing, thriving hub with around 70% of last years’ 15.6 million passengers on connecting flights.

That has much to do with Copa Airlines’ impressive growth. The Panama-based carrier has a route network that stretches from the Caribbean (I flew in from Punta Cana with Copa) across, Central, North and South America, and has a growing list of connections to Europe and even Asia.

DFA has exclusivity on news & gifts stores at Tocumen Airport.

The diversity of the passenger base is clear from a stroll through the busy main terminal, with even further variety from the thousands of visitors who came to see the Pope visit last week, and who were departing as I arrived.

Digital showcase: A strong feature of the DFA store network, with many brands (especially in spirits) using the branding opportunity.

Here, DFA took over around two-thirds of the duty free spaces in T1 last year, after sharing the spoils in an earlier tender with Motta Internacional. The DFA stores are right in the traveller’s line of sight as they come through security.

It’s no surprise then that they try to draw them in with strong value messages in both liquor and P&C, before engaging them with the wider branded offer across categories. Further down the central aisle, Motta is aiming to do the same with its own branded messages, in stores that have been recently upgraded, with work continuing on its satellite locations in the wings.

One of the latest DFA stores to open, the dedicated sunglasses offer will soon be joined by watches in this unit.

The retail and dining offer at Tocumen Airport is heavily fragmented, with many small core category stores and boutiques from a proliferation of other retailers – but the picture will change with the opening of the new T2 later this year.

Viewed from across the apron, the new facility still appears a work in progress, but it should be inaugurated by April and open by mid-year, the airport says. Here, both DFA and Motta will run 1,000sq m of space – DFA will be close to the majority of the gates and to several F&B and news & gifts outlets which it will also run.

The new T2 promises a transformation in the traveller experience – from the bustling, at peak times cramped journey though T1 to the open expanses of T2 – and a big opportunity for the retailers here to deliver what will become their signature travel retail operations in this region.

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