Online sales will be a key part of the Covid-19 recovery plan, says ASUTIL

By Andrew Pentol |

Gustavo Fagunses ASUTIL President small for web

Gustavo Fagundes, President ASUTIL .

Trade association Asociación Sudamericana de Tiendas Libres (ASUTIL) has reaffirmed its belief in online sales as a way of sustaining DF&TR business during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The viability of online sales during the crisis was initially mooted by José Luis Donagaray, Secretary General, ASUTIL, during a recent webinar organised by the Association. “We are trying to come up with solutions and ideas. Perhaps people can have an allowance to purchase online. This would avoid a scenario where items can no longer be sold because expiry dates for selling have passed,” he said.

Speaking on Tuesday (28 April) during another well-attended ASUTIL webinar, Gustavo Fagundes, President ASUTIL remarked:  “Now is the time to talk to Customs authorities and make it clear that online will be key in terms of the recovery plan. It is a safe way of selling and Customs can control who products are sold to.

“If people do not feel safe or confident in the airport environment they can shop online and have products delivered to their home.”

Fagundes also highlighted four key points the association is focusing on during its discussions with governments about relief measures.

REQUEST FOR RELIEF

As reported, ASUTIL and Airports Council International – Latin America & Caribbean (ACI-LAC) called for Latin American and Caribbean governments to offer economic, financial and fiscal relief measures to airports and aviation industry stakeholders.

Motta large for web

Government’s must cancel airport concession fees before retailers in the region can obtain relief from airport authorities, says ASUTIL.

He explained: “We need to have a broader view and not just focus on travel retail. Governments must understand that the tourism and travel industry is suffering more than the average sector or industry.”

Fagundes, who suggests the crisis started earlier for the aviation industry than many others and that the sector will take longer to recover than other industries commented:

“We need governments to understand that the tourism and travel industry is impacted more by the pandemic [than certain other industries— Ed] and that the solution has to be designed in a broader way.”

Using airports as an example, he added: “Airport authorities have concession fees with the governments. It is a force majeure situation and there should be no fees.”

He added: “Once fees are cancelled, there is an opportunity for retailers to obtain relief [from the airports— Ed] as well.

“If governments do not realise this [and act accordingly — Ed] it is going to be very difficult for us to influence the airport authorities to waive minimum guarantees, which are an important topic right now.”

Regarding the stance of the Brazilian government, Fagundes, who has held the role of Dufry Chief Operating Officer, Region America II (Brazil and Bolivia) since 2014 said: “The Brazilian government has accepted and admitted there is a force majeure situation and will provide relief for the airports.”

The second major focus of ASUTIL and ACI-LAC’s government discussions is employee retention.

EMPLOYEE RETENTION VITAL

“In some countries, relief packages are in place. Employees might be temporarily suspended or reduced to working part time, but they are still able to keep their jobs. Flexibility is required within the boundaries of the labour laws to ensure employees retain their roles”, emphasised Fagundes.

Jose-Louis-ASUTIL-border-conference

José Luis Donagaray, Secretary General, ASUTIL speaking at the Association’s first Latin American border store conference last year.

The third and fourth focuses relate to liquidity. “The third point concentrates on the deferral of special federal taxes. Low passenger flow at airports makes it difficult to pay the taxes, which is why we need them to be deferred.

“Finally, we have emphasised to governments that operators and suppliers require financial help to survive these difficult times.”

Offering his own take on the Covid-19 pandemic Donagaray, who reveals local operators are seeking meetings with the authorities in each country said: “We are all in the same boat. We don’t have customers and do not have people travelling through airports or crossing borders. We need to share things and prepare for the future.”

The webinar also included a powerful speech from Dr Roberto Canessa (pictured below), one of the 16 survivors of Uruguayan Air Force flight 571, which crashed into the Andes mountains on 13 October 1972.

Canessa, who urged his fellow survivors to eat the flesh of the deceased in order to stay alive following the crash — survivors were ultimately found 10 days later — was part of ASUTIL conferences in Panama (2007) and Chile (2016).

He said: “In this crisis, we must do something like we did in the Andes. Everyone has a part to play. It’s incredible how human beings adapt to new circumstances. We saved ourselves because we were a team.”

Offering some words of wisdom for industry stakeholders in the region, Canessa says it is important to maintain a sense of humour when face situations such as Covid-19. He concluded: “I also tell people to try and forget about the pandemic and to not be intoxicated by it.”

Look out for an extended interview with José Luis Donagaray, Secretary General, ASUTIL who took part in our Adapt & Survive Skype video series.

Roberto Canessa for web

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