By Joel Harrison

Global gifts

Joel Harrison is a drinks writer who regularly contributes to Whisky Magazine and other publications, including The Wall Street Journal India where he has a monthly column. A judge on the World Whisky, IWSC and Spirit Masters Awards, he co-founded irreverent whisky website Caskstrength and runs a creative marketing consultancy to the drinks industry
As the battleground in Scotch whisky intensifies, nowhere is the heat increasing more than in the arena of travel retail (née duty free). From sunglasses to make-up, one area in which ‘global travel retail’ excels is booze.

With consumers from mature markets such as the UK increasingly more educated about their purchases, especially at a premium level, demand has shifted away from the traditional one litre bottle of your usual tipple, towards the desire to purchase something totally unique and unusual when in the travel retail domain.

Driven by demand from airport operators, offering that ‘something extra’ from a retail perspective seems like a good way to add extra value to the customer experience.

With this in mind, the additional creativity of the marketer has never been more important; the term ‘blue sky thinking’ could not be more apt than when used about airport travel retail.

From single malt brands like Highland Park with their Leif Erikson edition, to blended whiskies such as Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Edition and Johnnie Walker, this is the place to be creative. If the world whisky market were a day at school, travel retail would be the art class.

The addition of creativity to ‘travel retail only’ bottlings has aided the brand owners, specifically within the single malt arena, in the development of no age statement offerings.

This can be seen in ranges from The Macallan (1884 Collection), Bowmore (Springtide, 100 Degrees Proof), Auchentoshan (Springwood, Heartwood, Solera), The Glenlivet (Master Distillers Reserve) and many others, with all the producers claiming to have seen growth in sales. Proof maybe that well thought-through concepts, coupled with good liquid and strong brand identity, can indeed seduce the weary traveller to part with their dollars.

But interesting and unusual bottlings are not the end of the story for the development of global travel retail. With the top end of the whisky market growing and value being as much a driver as volume to the key players, travel retail has seen an explosion of brands offering very expensive, very rare editions.

Be they Dalmore, The Macallan or Bowmore, these precious decanters, often dangling a price tag not too far away from that of a decent sports car, sit high up in lofty glass cabinets. These ultra-premium products provide a halo effect across the entire brands range.

Put yourself in the shoes of the average traveller who doesn’t know too much about single malts, but wants to buy a bottle for a gift from duty free. If you don’t know the difference between one Glen and another, which do you choose? Well, if one of the brands has a bottle worth, say, £60,000 on display, you’ll naturally think more highly of that distillery over another.

Nowhere is the area of travel retail more important than in the emerging markets, such as Asia. An example of this can be seen with the recent release by Gordon & MacPhail of a 70 Years Old Glenlivet. Not so cynically aimed at the Asian market as to be retailed in Asia itself (it was initially available exclusively in Vancouver but will get a worldwide release) this was more subtly aimed at the growing market of high end Asia business travellers, with a price $35,888 Canadian dollars.

Why $35,888 you ask? Well, the lucky number in Asia is eight: so, triple eight at the end of the price makes a lot of sense. And three plus five at the start... well, that equals eight, too.

The same rang true for The Dalmore Constellation Collection: 21 bottles of single malt whisky, priced at £158,000. World Duty Free were allocated two complete collections to sell, numbers one and, yes, eight...

With the profile of whisky ever-growing and exports up year-on-year, global travel retail will continue to provide a place for unique offerings and extreme high end bottles.