Interview: Oliver Gottschling talks contract gains and reviving airline retail

By Luke Barras-hill |

In an interview appearing in the TRBusiness February e-zine, Gebr. Heinemann Sales Director Inflight & Cruises EMEA Oliver Gottschling talks up the importance of the Ryanair concession renewal, discusses risk mitigation in the oft-maligned sale-or-return model, and argues the broader case for boutique in a manner that works in tandem with digital fulfilment methods such as pre-order.

As reported, Gottschling assumed a broadened remit at the beginning of this year having previously worked as Sales Director Inflight & Catering.

The timing of the transition into his new role is perhaps indicative of the notable strides the company has made in recovering the airline business in recent years.

Like other companies with a vested interest in airline retailing, Heinemann had to deal with the swift and merciless bottoming out the DF&TR inflight channel in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as flight grounded and passenger sales evaporated.

“We really had to set up and stabilise the business again; it was hard and we really questioned how we could continue to make the business profitable,” Gottschling admitted in conversation with TRBusiness.

“Especially with the supply chain issues, it was difficult to get everything at once with our airlines and airports; everybody returned quite simultaneously and had this big need for goods.”

New contracts have helped stimulate demand. Heinemann has been awarded business with the likes of Polish airline LOT and Uzbekistan Airways, both delivered through local partners, in recent years.

‘Getting the basics right’

The Hamburg-headquartered travel retailer also works with Enter Air, a charter airline in Poland, and supplies to TUI Group’s operations across Germany and the UK.

“With TUI, it took a while to get back on track but they’ve managed quite well, setting up an attractive promotion scheme and we’ve done trainings together,” commented Gottschling. “We continuously work on the assortment.”

The partnership with Ryanair for onboard retail was extended in 2023 for at least two more years. Source: Ryanair.

Towards the end of 2022, the flight path became clearer and growth in the inflight business picked up into 2023. Perfume sales have been a standout performer, spurred on by Paco Rabanne’s Paco sku, which has sold close to half a million units, plus healthy performances from beauty brands Sol de Janeiro, Dr Babor and Naj Oleari.

Questions around how to digitalise the wider business have been prominent, continued Gottschling.

“Commercially, we have the basics right,” he responded. “When it comes to digitalisation, we’ve realised that digital can be an add-on to our business. Having the passengers onboard, having the interaction and impulse… that’s actually the driver.

“It’s totally different sitting on an airplane and having the opportunity to buy something nice for yourself or for your loved ones than sitting in front of your TV and browsing. We need to take emotions into consideration and that’s something you cannot 100% digitise. So we still think the order-to-seat model is really relevant.”

Last year, as revealed by TRBusiness, Heinemann extended its onboard retail contract with Ryanair for at least a further two years, fortifying an alliance dating more than two decades.

“With Ryanair, we deliver across all categories in boutique,” said Gottschling. “Its growth plans in 10 years’ time is 300 million passengers [annually]. If we do the basics right and can keep the sales per pax then this is a massive business.”

To read the full interview, see the TRBusiness February e-zine by clicking here.

Stay close to TRBusiness.com for a detailed report on Gebr. Heinemann’s full-year 2023 performance in the coming months.

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