While airport passenger levels are still drastically below 2019 peaks for Aer Rianta International in Montreal and Quebec, Canada – passenger numbers for 2021 were only 19% of 2019 traffic numbers and resulting travel retail sales were 26% of 2019 levels—the company has made some important adjustments to how it does business as recovery moves forward, according to Jackie McDonagh, General Manager and Director, Aer Rianta International North America.
And now, with vaccinated travelers no longer needing a COVID-19 test to enter Canada as of April 1, passenger recovery could take a giant leap forward. Canadian travel agents say they’ve seen a surge in demand for flights since the change was announced in mid-March, according to local media. ARI-NA intends to be ready to meet the new realities with a best practices mentality.
Staffing levels as of March 2022 are still about a third of what they were pre-pandemic, says McDonagh. The ARI-NA offices are currently working with a hybrid in-office / work from home model at the recommendation of the local government, a situation that McDonagh says will likely continue.
“We have discovered the benefits of working from home. People avoid the stress of commuting and it allows for more work-life balance flexibility,” she tells TMI.
McDonagh kept team morale positive during the pandemic through undertaking large projects and increasing communications to accommodate remote working.
“We also implemented social calls, health and well-being checks and conducted a lot of training,” she said.
In-store, McDonagh says ARI-NA is experiencing higher levels of spends and penetration due to exceptional offers and the need for a lot more gifting.
“We are seeing some element of revenge spending with increased PAS, now more than ever we need to continue to adapt to ensure that we are keeping hold of this increased spend. Gifting and self-treating have become an even more important element of our mix. We see customers wanting to pick up something even more special for that loved one that perhaps they haven’t seen in so long,” she observes.
At the same time that the company is working to continue generating the higher spend levels, it also has instituted a new emphasis and awareness on sustainability and diversity.
“We relaunched our ESG (environmental, social and governance) strategy last year, and as part of this we are continuing to develop our sustainable and ethical retailing model. We understand the importance every generation places on people and planet, and we are ensuring we have the product range to reflect that,” notes McDonagh.
In September 2021, ARI-NA launched the LXR Pre-Loved luxury fashion boutique in The Loop Duty Free Montreal Airport.
“LXR is the first pre-loved luxury concept to launch in airport travel retail in North America. It is a dedicated vintage and pre-loved luxury retail space that specialises in authentic handbags and accessories from designer brands including Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo, Cartier, Dior, Chloé, among others. We have also introduced the local vegan leather goods brand Matt & Natt into the Montreal stores which is so far doing very well,” she explains.
Local Montreal, Quebec and Canadian products are getting greater emphasis at ARI-NA.
“Local goods have always been a focus for us as a gifting destination for tourists and locals but over the last year we have focused more on local products and brands as part of our sustainability strategy. We have introduced over 20 new Quebec made spirits and wines as well as a whole new line up of Quebec made maple products,” says McDonagh.
Technology and Digital Technology is also playing a more important role in ARI’s day-to-day business, beyond its new website and e-commerce options, with more brands offering passengers digital opportunities.
“We have quite a few brands using QR codes in stores, whether it is for recipes in a tasting or scent notes of a perfume or just more information on the product – basically to replace any brochure or info card we would have handed out physically in the past. This allows the customer to have more information at their fingertips without having to touch anything but their own phone. It is also paperless which is a bonus from a sustainability standpoint so we really encourage this method,” she said.
Brands also became incredibly creative when it came to launching activations during the pandemic.
“At the end of 2021 we were able to partner with a couple of brands for some really great animations in store. With Diageo, we had individual tasting bottles of special cocktails made by a local Montreal mixologist to taste our range of Tanqueray gins, served socially distanced inside a fruit grove installation in the middle of the international store.
“In December, Chanel celebrated the 100th anniversary of the No. 5 fragrance with a spectacular installation including interactive elements such as selfie spaces and a bar to try out the different products. We also had very successful launches of several new fragrances with activations to support for Paco Rabanne, Dior and Gucci.
“With the Omicron variant at the beginning of this year things have slowed down a bit but starting in March and through the end of this year we have a lot more interest from brands to partner on activations and we have a few omnichannel activations currently in the planning phase.”
McDonagh and her team are looking forward to attending the 2022 Summit of the Americas in Palm Beach.
“I think it’s very important that the industry get that opportunity to collaborate once again and I believe that the show is paramount to allow that collaboration. There is a great opportunity for brands to show newness and innovation post-pandemic, particularly in the consumers’ expectations of needs and wants going forward. It is also an opportunity for operators and brands to share insights and best practice that have been manifested over the last two years, as well as changing passenger profiles and expected digital requirements from consumers.”