‘Over to you’: Olivier Ponti, Vice President Insights, ForwardKeys

By Luke Barras-hill |

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys: “Before the Covid-19 crisis, real-time and forward-looking data would have given a retailer or duty free operator a nice competitive edge. Today, it ensures their survival.”

Travel data analyst ForwardKeys continues to track closely passenger traffic trends in key markets amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The unpredictable scenario, argues Vice President Insights Olivier Ponti, has sharpened the need for more authoritative and quality data and travel retail should be taking this seriously to survive and thrive.

Working as an analyst in the travel retail and the duty free sector is not for the faint-hearted. Think about it: in a global economy, every major event generates ripple effects and it is often in the travel ecosystem that these are first felt.

When disaster strikes, all eyes turn towards the analyst, who is supposed to explain – sometimes under considerable time pressure – how a complex chain of events triggered by a natural disaster, a terror attack or any other catastrophe, will affect a particular business.

To tell you the truth, whether it is by lack of tools, human or financial resources, these analysts are often not equipped to provide the basic answers that are needed, evaluate the damage and identify opportunities.


This is a debacle on top of a disaster. Until very recently, key brands and operators could work their way around this embarrassing situation thanks to the sheer dynamism of the travel sector. Travellers would adapt their plans to disruptive events, they would keep going on a trip and therefore still generate revenue for travel retail and duty free.

There would be some winners and some losers, but most would survive and once the crisis passed few would see the urgency of upgraded analytical capabilities. The result is that Covid-19 hit a sector where analytical capabilities were still at an early stage and the blow was particularly painful.

Besides its unprecedented scale, the defining feature of the current crisis is the breath-taking speed at which it transforms the travel market.

In a matter of weeks, the pandemic brought travel to a standstill and the fragile reactivation of the market that marked the past few months shows that things can change very quickly.

Travel restrictions can bring a destination that was painstakingly recovering to the depth of the crisis.

This extreme volatility of the market pleads for real-time and forward-looking data, to reflect sudden and sometimes erratic changes. Before the Covid-19 crisis, this data would have given a retailer or duty free operator a nice competitive edge.

Today, it ensures their survival. Covid-19 raised the bar in terms of business intelligence needs and suddenly put analysts in the spotlight, a situation they are not accustomed to.

Like many crises before, Covid-19 is working as an accelerator for change and it has shaken up the strategic agenda for many companies. After more than a decade of academic papers, business books and conferences announcing upcoming triumphs, digital transformation and strengthening of analytical capabilities has made its way to the top of the priority list.

In this respect, it is quite telling that despite depressing financial reports, budget cuts and layoffs, some companies have decided to invest more in data. Some may regret that this did not happen earlier but, for my part, I am just glad this is finally happening.

ForwardKeys launched its Chinese Shopper Tracker for travel retail professionals earlier this month. An interactive dashboard provides intelligence on spending data and shopper profiles. Click to enlarge.

Becoming a data-driven company requires more than acquiring or developing good datasets. It affects the way you operate from top to bottom and shifts the balance of power within organisations, giving much more weight to the analysts in charge of making sense of the data.

It demands tactical thinking and an innovative mindset. It requires agility and flawless execution so that insight can quickly be converted into actions. In short, it asks companies to truly embrace change and take actions into the transformational journey of their business.

If anything, the Covid-19 crisis should make travel retailers and duty free operators realise that good, unbiased data, is not only the life vest that will pull their business out of the dark waters of the recession but also the powerboat that could bring them to unchartered territories. On this bumpy journey, the place of the analyst should be right next to the captain, so they better get used to the attention, hold on fast, and enjoy the ride.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the columnist and do not necessarily reflect those of TRBusiness.

To read other columns in the series, click the relevant links below. Interested in getting involved? Please contact one of the editorial team at the following: [email protected][email protected][email protected].

Kate Holsgrove, Chief Commercial Officer, Perth Airport

Leanne Nutter, Head of Travel Retail, Blackjack Promotions

Diego Baeza, Global Travel Retail & Duty Free Director, Viña Concha y Toro 

Richard Gray, Chief Executive Officer, Aer Rianta International Middle East 

Olivier Dancette Founder, HiDutyFree

Dr Patrick Bohl, Chairman, CEETRA

Laurent Safar, CEO, Adaptive Channel 

Tim Jobber, International Management Consultant, JES Travel Retail

John Pearce, Head of Retail & Commercial — Terminal, Adelaide Airport Limited

Alain Maingreaud, President, TFWA Part Two

Andrew Brodie, CEO, Sunshine Coast Airport

Trevor Lee, Managing Director, TravConsult

James Prescott, Managing Director, Harding Retail

Tullia Ialongo, Business Development Partner, Wand Technology

One Red Kite Limited, Founder and Managing Director Kevin Brocklebank

Alain Maingreaud, President, TFWA Part One


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