Thu, Nov 08, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Airports bring in the bling

With stingray skin cigar cases selling for US$8,533 and diamond-encrusted Hello Kittty necklaces,duty free is going first class

AFP , CANNES, FRANCE

Shoppers visit the Tax Free World Association Exhibition 2007, the duty-free and travel retail industry's annual forum.

PHOTO: AFP

From matching diamond-encrusted mother-and-daughter gold chokers to the latest must-have bags and glasses or a hand-crafted humidor, duty-free goods are increasingly going first class.

"We are an industry that lives and breathes some of the best brands in the world," Erik Juul-Mortensen, head of the Tax Free World Association (TFWA), told a trade salon here recently.

"Let us focus on providing a shopping experience travelers will not find elsewhere."

If the annual TFWA World Exhibition was anything to go by, up-market passengers with deep pockets are heading for a bonanza spending spree while kicking their heels at airports next year.

And while leading couture houses such as Italy's Versace, France's Hermes and Germany's Boss flew in to the Riviera fair to display their latest designs, there were also hundreds of smaller specialist up-market brands, reflecting burgeoning competition in deluxe accessories for children as well as adults.

"There is increasing demand for high-end luxury goods whether it is in electronics, cosmetics or fashion, and I expect this trend to continue," Colm McLoughlin, who heads up Dubai Duty Free, told the TWFA magazine.

As a result, business in the fast-growing number of duty free outlets in airports, cruise-liners, ferries and shops is expected to keep growing, industry experts here said, getting an extra boost from the rising number of travelers worldwide.

Duty free shops in the Middle East, Dubai in particular, are experiencing massive growth. But it is in Asia, notably South Korea, Macau and China, where the shopping bonanza is really taking off, a TFWA spokeswoman said.

The buying surge should help the industry reach the US$30 billion mark this year, said Juul-Mortensen.

Despite security scares, international air passenger traffic rose 8.6 percent in August, the fastest growth rate for 16 months, according to the International Air Transport Association.

With airport restrictions on carrying liquids and gels still in force in some countries, there was added interest in the huge array of fashion accessories on offer at the TFWA show.

Woman's handbags remained one of the most popular accessories, but legendary leather goods companies from Hermes to Dior and Ermenegildo Zegna are facing increasing competition from less pricey brands such as Furla, Longchamp and Korean-owned MCM.

French brand Longchamp's new Legende line is one of the season's must-haves. After being photographed on the arms of British supermodel Kate Moss and pop icon Madonna, the bags have sold out in high street stores but are available duty free.

"All the duty free operators want to stock our bags, it's a great opportunity for us," Longchamp's Sandrine Wezel said.

Deluxe kids' accessories are also catching on around the world.

After starting out life in Japan, the Hello Kitty brand is fast becoming a cult with youngsters and their mums, and a new luxury range designed by Victoria Couture in France that includes diamond-studded gold kitty necklaces costing from US$563 to US$3,250 is taking the brand to new heights in duty free stores.

The range, including "mother and daughter" tops, belts and bags, will shortly become available in around 40 retail points around the world including China, in time for next year's Beijing Olympics.

"There's a definite increase in luxury products for children," explained France's Kidow chairman Eric Lemoine.

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