Travel Retail: All of whisky's roads lead to Hainan

Travel Retail: All of whisky's roads lead to Hainan

International travel has struggled to restart in the midst of Covid-19, so the duty-free business has focused its resources on this Chinese holiday island

Travel Retail | 12 Jan 2022 | Issue 179 | By Joe Bates

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If you’ve dusted off your passport recently, you’ll know taking a flight in the era of Covid-19 has become a complex, confusing and costly process, involving multiple tests and possibly weeks of quarantine. Europe has led the travel recovery this year; other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and China still remain closed to foreigners. Sadly, there is little sign of a coordinated, multilateral process to restart international travel. As a result, sales of spirits in travel retail aren’t expected to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2024.

The Chinese off-shore holiday island of Hainan has quickly become a key focus point for the duty-free industry during the pandemic. With their favourite overseas holiday spots unavailable, the mainland Chinese have flocked to this tropical island in greater numbers. It’s a trend the Chinese government has encouraged by increasing visitors’ personal duty-free allowance and expanding the type of goods that can be sold at duty-free prices to include imported foreign spirits such as Scotch whisky and French Cognac.

Hainan is effectively a new model of duty-free shopping, one targeted at domestic travellers, which is proving immensely popular in China. Several giant new duty-free stores have opened on the island already and sales are forecast to grow to RMB300 billion (£33.7 billion) by 2025, up from around RMB46.8 billion (£5.2 billion) last year. The Macallan has been quick to seize this opportunity, recently opening a new shop-in-shop at the giant CDF Mall in the southern coastal city of Sanya, the world’s biggest duty-free store.
The Bowmore Designed by Aston Martin collection

This new store was the launchpad of the The Macallan Concept No. 3, the third and final travel retail-exclusive release in the distillery’s Concept Series (for more details of this release, see below). Other expressions sold in the new shop include The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old, The Macallan 18, 25 and 30 Years Old, core travel retail exclusive The Quest Collection, and prestige whiskies such as The Macallan Oscuro, The Macallan No. 6 in Lalique and The Macallan M Decanter.

In the same city, Diageo has recently opened shop-in-shops for both Johnnie Walker and The Singleton Single Malt Whisky, this time on the lower ground level of the Sanya Duty Free City Mall. The Singleton store features The Singleton of Glendullan range alongside other Diageo single malts, including the latest Special Releases portfolio. Meanwhile, the Johnnie Walker Whisky Boutique puts the spotlight on Johnnie Walker Blue Label, giving shoppers the chance both to try the whisky and have bottles personalised and gift-wrapped at a dedicated gifting station.

Hainan may be grabbing all the duty-free headlines, but I am pleased to report that whisky distilleries are finally turning their attention to other markets too as international travel slowly starts to recover. For instance, Islay’s Bowmore has teamed up with Aston Martin to create the travel retail-exclusive Designed by Aston Martin collection: a range of three single malts with packaging featuring classic Aston Martin racing cars.

Priced at £45, the entry-level Bowmore 10 Years Old with its palate of dried fruit, sea salt and gentle peat features on its packaging the Aston Martin factory team car, the LM10, which first raced at the Le Mans circuit in 1932. At £62, the honeyed, citrus-forward Bowmore 15 Years Old with its sweet tobacco leaf notes is paired with the iconic Aston Martin Atom. Finally, the top-of-the-range Bowmore 18 Years Old, £93, which offers dark chocolate and treacle toffee on the nose, and peat smoke and roasted notes on the palate, is paired with the Aston Martin DB Mk III. All three whiskies have been rolled out to major airports worldwide, including London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Istanbul, and Taoyuan in Taiwan.

It’s reassuring to see that a major distillery like Bowmore has faith enough in travel retail to release a collection like Designed by Aston Martin exclusively for travellers. Let’s hope other whisky producers raise their game too as international travel continues to recover.

GTR Exclusive Releases


Signet Ristretto
ABV: 43%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Speyside
Price per bottle: £385
Bottling type: Distillery
Availability: Seoul Incheon Airport, Taiwan
Country of origin: Scotland

Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation Dr Bill Lumsden’s reputation as a pioneer of cask-finished whiskies is assured, but the great man is not one to rest on his laurels. This latest release, which is limited to only 1,500 bottles and is available only at Incheon Airport’s Glenmorangie Signet Boutique, sees Dr Bill experiment with deeply roasted chocolate malt spirit – which happens to be made only once a year at the distillery. Full to the brim with espresso-rich aromas, this spirit is then aged in virgin toasted oak casks in order to create a spicy dram with coffee notes and hints of leather. If you like the mocha flavours of the classic Glenmorangie Signet, Glenmorangie Signet Ristretto is definitely one for you.

The Macallan

Concept No. 3
ABV: 40.8%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Speyside
Price per bottle: £110
Bottling type: Distillery
Availability: The Macallan Airport Boutiques (New York JFK, Taipei Taoyuan, Dubai, London Heathrow), Hainan island and selected airport stores worldwide
Country of origin: Scotland

This fresh-tasting The Macallan expression with its notes of pear, creamy vanilla and warming cinnamon spice will definitely appeal to collectors. It features a presentation box created by Texan graphic designer David Carson, who has created campaigns for the likes of Nike, Levi, Pepsi and Ray Ban. Carson describes his style as “experimental, intuitive and personal”. He reveals that his “entire” trip to the Macallan Distillery provided the inspiration for the pack design. “From walking through the vast 485-acre estate, to joining dinner with members of the Whisky Mastery Team, meeting the people who watch over the ageing casks and understanding the process, as well as watching [whisky maker] Polly [Logan] experiment with new flavours. It all played a part,” he says.
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