Tourvest to emerge as onboard digital TR provider

By Andrew Pentol |

Clive Jones, CEO, Tourvest Retail Services.

Tourvest Retail Services (TRS) has invested in a full omnichannel e-commerce platform in order to achieve its objective of becoming an onboard digital travel retail provider.

Speaking exclusively to TRBusiness as part of this publication’s November Africa report, Clive Jones, CEO, Tourvest Retail Services, said the full omnichannel e-commerce platform would replace its standalone pre-order site.

The new e-commerce platform will enable Tourvest to offer a sense of personalisation, understand historic purchases, target people based on their preferences and engage with customers at home.

As reported, Tourvest was working closely with British Airways on launching the new e-commerce channel onboard pre-Covid-19. Jones said: “It was something that we are obviously working on with British Airways. We are in a much more advanced stage of this with them.

“BA will be making an announcement as to the way forward. It is exciting. Digital retail is the future from a food and beverage and duty free perspective and we are excited about what the future holds in that respect.”

‘BIGGEST AFRICAN CUSTOMER’

As a travel retail provider offering onboard retail and duty free programmes, Tourvest Retail Services’ biggest African customer is Ethiopian Airlines, on which it runs inflight duty free services. Tourvest also operates the duty free business on Kenya Airways (and its low-cost carrier component Jambojet Limited) and South African Airways, which received another government bailout of $640 million at the beginning of November.

Additionally, Tourvest operates on Mango Airlines and TAAG Angola Airlines and was close to launching on South African low-cost carrier Kulula.com before the pandemic. Jones said: “When our business emerges from the pandemic, we will be a digital travel retail provider. This is absolutely clear. Our technology is ready but has not been launched in Africa as a result of the pandemic. When our airlines re-start the technology will be on board.”

He added: “We still have our pre-order platform on the likes of Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways, but it is very difficult to engage with customers using this method due to the lower passenger volumes and decreased flight schedules.”

Tourvest operates one departures duty store in partnership with Gebr. Heinemann at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Nigeria. Source: Gebr. Heinemann

At the time of interview, Ethiopian Airlines’ flight schedule was back to around 30% of 2019 levels, although passenger numbers were significantly less. Tourvest was generating 25% of last year’s revenue on the Ethiopian carrier.

Buy-on-board food and beverage is currently unavailable on Mango Airlines and could be re-introduced in the first quarter of 2021. Tourvest also re-started its Kenya Airways retail operations on a trial basis, but business was stopped due to inconsistent flight numbers.

Jones explained: “Sales and flights need to be consistent to cover the start-up costs of actually trading.”

Aside the company’s inflight operations, which have unsurprisingly taken a big hit, the Tourvest Duty Free downtown distribution business is continuing to distribute alcohol products into African duty free stores, embassies and border points.

“Based in Cape Town, the business is doing well and even running profitably, which is unheard of in this period. Alcohol — rightly or wrongly — is still a go-to product on the African continent and we are servicing that demand. It is going quite well.”

In Nigeria, where Tourvest operates one departures duty store in partnership with Gebr. Heinemann at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, business has been more challenging.

Tourvest was targeting 10%-12% growth in Nigeria prior to the pandemic.

Protests against police brutality in the country resulted in the closure of the airport stores, which have been trading since 2015.

Jones, who says the Nigeria business was performing well before the pandemic said: “The unrest has not helped and the limited number of repatriation or emergency flights has decreased as a result.”

On the potential of the Nigerian market, Jones pinpoints the success of key lines such as liquor, tobacco and fragrances.

“There are various large retail suppliers who have continued their partnerships with us and signed new agreements to have their brands in the Nigerian market. There is a consumer in Nigeria that has a high-net-worth. If I look at some of our more premium products they sell well.”

Tourvest will run two stores at Addis Ababa Bole International Airpor in the departures transfer area which will begin trading in Q1 2021. Source: Tourvest Retail Services.

Pre-Covid-19, Tourvest was targeting growth of 10%-12% across its Nigeria business.

“Alcohol, tobacco and fragrances still sell, but there is certainly a more premium demographic,” said Jones.

MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS

While Tourvest clearly has a long-standing and sound relationship with Heinemann in Nigeria it has developed strong brand partnerships across its various DF&TR businesses. These relationships have certainly been tested during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jones recalled: “When the pandemic hit, we contacted all our key suppliers and requested various solutions. The first solution was to send back excess stock, as we believed the pandemic would last for a long time. For that, we got credits from our suppliers.

“Our second request from our suppliers was extended payment terms which would commence once the airlines were back up and running. Due to the relationships we have built with them over many years, they have been very receptive. As a result, we are sitting in a good position from a creditors’ perspective and a good relationship position with our suppliers.”

An artist’s impression of a Tourvest Retail Services store in Ethiopia. Source: Tourvest Retail Services

Over in Ethiopia at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia, Tourvest will run two stores in the departures transfer area, which will begin trading in Q1 2021. Construction of the outlets is complete, but the openings have been delayed due to the pandemic.

“When you walk into these stores, you will see they are comparable with any other duty free and travel retail outlets worldwide,” said Jones.

See the November edition of TRBusiness for the full interview with Clive Jones, CEO, Tourvest Retail Services

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