[UPDATED] Gebr. Heinemann ‘won’t bid’ in Aena airports duty free contest

By Luke Barras-hill |

Gebr. Heinemann has pulled out of the blockbuster Spanish airports duty free tender. Source: Aena.

Gebr. Heinemann has decided not to enter the bidding race to operate duty free concessions across 27 of Aena’s Spanish airports.

In a somewhat surprising move, Heinemann chose to issue a media statement on 22 February confirming its exit, within which it outlines that the decision was made ‘after a thorough examination of the contract under discussion and an intensive conception phase’.

It says the decision was communicated to Aena in a personal conversation.

Gebr. Heinemann Co-CEO Raoul Spanger said: “We appreciate the very professional tendering process that Aena carries out. But it does not correspond with the red lines we defined during the pandemic and which we are not willing to cross.

“Withdrawing from this tender process in no way cashes in on our growth ambitions for this year. We will continue to look closely at each new business opportunity with great interest and commitment.”

Chief Sales Officer Florian Seidel added: “Gebr. Heinemann stands for long-term partnerships on equal footing. Our goal with all partners is to put together the best possible offer for all parties involved – for the airport, for us and also for the traveller. An imbalance at one end of this triangle is not in line with our corporate goals.

L-R: Raoul Spanger, Co-CEO; and Florian Seidel, Chief Sales Officer.

“We have made it our vision to turn travel time into valuable time. We promise travellers a spectacular assortment, activating price advantages and unforgettable experiences,” added Seidel.

“To make this a travel experience in our shops, we also need the flexibility to test different measures. We firmly believe in our business model and in our industry, and that is precisely why we want to invest courageously in innovative formats – time, space and money.

“Our unique selling point is that we can offer our customers and partners a wide range of cooperation models – from pure supply to full operation of the retail space, to centre management. We do many things, but not at any price.”

Aena responds

Approached by TRBusiness, Gebr. Heinemann declined to comment further when asked about conditions within the tender that did not ‘correspond with the red lines’ it defined during the pandemic.

An Aena spokesperson added: “The tender for the management of duty free shops launched by Aena this year is the most important in the world in terms of business volume and number of airports.

“For the first time in Aena’s history, 13 operators from three different continents have applied to participate in the tender, which has made it possible generate a climate of intense competition among the participants. All of them have passed the first phase of the process, complying with the required solvency.

Incumbent Dufry’s current duty free contract is set to expire at the end of October. Pictured is a concession at Tenerife Norte-Ciudad de La Laguna Airport. Source: Aena.

“Aena’s duty is to look after the interests of their shareholders and passengers. We understand that this may not fit with the strategy or may pose a significant challenge to some operator, but it is not up to us to assess the business decisions of the operators.”

NOTE: This is an updated version of an original story first published on 22 February 2023.

Editor’s note

The decision by Gebr. Heinemann to declare so publicly its intentions to exit from the Aena duty free bidding race raises more questions than answers. It’s rare for retail operators to issue statements on matters such as these, nor does it square with the usually reserved nature of the Hamburg-headquartered travel retailer.

It comes exactly two weeks to the day that TRBusiness reported that a cohort of 10 major duty free operating companies, including Heinemann, had been given the green light to proceed to the bid phase after meeting the necessary solvency requirements.

We can’t take much away from the statement in itself as to the precise reasons for Heinemann’s exit and the context around it, other than the obvious references to the ‘red lines’ it is unwilling to cross and the fact it does ‘many things, but not at any price’. Suffice to say, TRBusiness has put questions to the relevant parties. But one thing is unquestionable: the move has not dampened Gebr. Heinemann’s growth ambitions.

This was made clear as much in Raoul Spanger’s assertion that the withdrawal does not ‘cash in’ on such ambitions. It will be interesting to see how the bidding race now progresses…

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