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Needless to say, the travel retail industry took a major hit during the pandemic; all those tempting duty-free items sold to international travelers in airports, on cruises, through airlines, at ferry terminals and ports, etc.

Airports are where you find the things you never knew you needed, or where you simply make purchases based on the perception you are getting a great deal buying duty-free.

More and more though, brands like YSL are realizing that many buyers are less tempted by cheaper prices and more enticed by special products such as unique flavors or styles which are sold exclusively at airports and not found in regular stores or online.

Travel retailers need to make up for lost sales caused by the pandemic, so we can expect more travel-exclusive products to pop-up in airports, along with airport stores that are more immersive or unique.

We have already seen things like paid VR stations in airports, along with Bombay Sapphire Gin’s sensory pop-up shops in Amsterdam, Sydney and Auckland. Even food delivery services like Deliveroo and Uber Eats are now running pilot programs at various airports!

So as the world begins to open up for travel and business once again, let’s take a look at which products travelers will be buying up the most in places like airports.

Top Products in the Travel Retail Industry

What People are Buying in Airports

Female traveler duty free shopping perfume RF

Whether you want to shop for tech, beauty products, an engagement ring for the girl you’ve just fallen in love with while travelling overseas, or alcohol to get over a long-distance relationship that’s just come to an end, you can pretty much find everything for sale now in airports.

However, research is showing that our buying habits are changing a bit. No longer are travelers purchasing tech gadgets, luggage, neck pillows, jewelry, cheesy souvenirs, or even much alcohol for that matter in airports.

So what are the new hot products dominating the shops at airports and other duty-free travel zones? Here are some of the top items people regularly seek out when killing time at the airport.

Nicotine Pouches

Modern nicotine users are seeking out less harmful ways to get their nicotine fix, and are ditching cigarettes for products like snus and nicotine pouches.

While snus has long been popular in Sweden, it is now nicotine pouches that seem to be receiving global attention. Tobacco-free and smokeless, nicotine pouches are a discreet way for travelers to enjoy nicotine.

Regarded as a fresher and cleaner way to enjoy tobacco that won’t stain your teeth or require you to spit or inhale anything, nicotine pouches have also become popular because of the many different flavors that are available on the market.

While most travelers find it easier to simply purchase nicotine pouches from online retailers like Snusdirect so they have them well before they take off for a trip, nicotine pouch brands are now entering the travel retail sector as well.

Buying Nicotine Pouches in Airports

Swedish tobacco company Match is looking to bring products like ZYN to the travel retail sector and recently showcased their various product flavors at the Middle East & Africa Duty Free Association in Dubai.

Nicotine pouches expansion into the UAE comes on the heels of their availability in the US going from being sold in a few thousand stores to over 100,000 locations.

Travelers especially benefit from packing nicotine pouches or picking them up at the airport due to the fact the TSA currently places no restrictions on smoke-free nicotine products.

You can use nicotine pouches in the airport and on flights, unlike smoking cigarettes, and aren’t restricted by sometimes strict tobacco cigarettes allowances imposed by some nations.

Some nations may ban the sale of tobacco-free nicotine pouches but often allow travelers to bring them through customs for personal use.

The appeal of nicotine pouches to travelers both in terms of usability and being available in a wide array of flavors that includes cool mint, citrus, watermelon, coffee, and now Bellini, means their sales in the travel retail industry and elsewhere looks to only grow exponentially in the years ahead.

Bottled Water

Bottles water airport RF

You often hear the importance of staying hydrated while traveling, especially on flights, and it seems like travelers are heeding that advice. Bottled water is by far the most purchased item in the travel retail sector.

Whether it’s due to the fact there are restrictions on liquids being brought through security checkpoints or that travelers are just simply thirsty, they are surprisingly happy to pay a premium for bottled water.

Recent findings found that the top five items purchased in airports were all brands of bottled water, with brands like Dasani, Aquafina, Glaceau Smartwater, and Fiji being the top-selling brands.

Because bottled water is so overpriced in airports and isn’t exactly great for the environment, many people like myself usually recommend bringing a refillable water bottle to save on travel costs and save the planet.

However, there is something to say for the convenience factor of simply buying bottled water and in the era of Covid it’s not exactly appealing to use communal water fountains to refill bottles.

For these reasons, and the availability of enticing flavored bottled water that is much healthier than sodas, bottled water brands look to remain at the top of the list of most-purchased travel retail items.


Makeup shop woman RF

Once of the next best selling categories of items in airports is various toiletries. Despite making a travel packing list and checking it twice, countless travelers forget to pack everything from aspirin to contact lens solution.

While you may pay a premium for many toiletries in the airport, it seems people are happy to pay more to relieve pain or discomfort. Top selling items include tissues, lip balm, band-aids, and deodorant.

When it comes to international travel with long-haul flights or a string of flights taking up a day or more, forgetting to pack toiletry essentials and simply going without is just not an option for many travelers.

That’s why it’s essential to check your carry-on to make sure you’ve packed any prescriptions, OTC medications, or other toiletries you think you may need at the airport or while on flights.

One item that is actually quite competitively priced I found is makeup. Big name brand makeup can often be purchased at the airport at quite reduced prices. You can also often find colors or shades of makeup that main not be readily available in your home country, or find special products that are exclusive to travel retail.

Both makeup and skincare brands often create exclusive travel-size or sample packs that allow you to trial a new brand at a lower cost for smaller bottles rather than risking buying full-sized bottles only to find the products don’t work for you.

Magazines & Newspapers

Magazine plane window flying RF

Print magazines and newspapers may be on life support thanks to the rise of digital media, but one place where the sale of printed news and entertainment remains rather strong is in travel retail.

So why are magazines and newspapers still selling in airports? It can largely be attributed to the types of people that fly.

People that regularly travel are usually older with disposable money, or are business travelers that make decent salaries. It is this class and age group of the population that is still likely to remain a bit old-school and like the feel of a physical magazine or newspaper in their hands.

Magazines and newspapers aren’t exactly cheap these days, and it is seen as more of a luxury purchase. Many publications have jumped on this idea, making their magazines ultra-high quality with thick covers and premium glossy pages to attract traveler-types, sometimes costing in the double digits for a single issue.

Just look at who’s advertising in print magazines these days. It’s often high-end luxury brands that further confirm its wealthier people that often travel and have more expendable cash to dish out that are buying magazines in particular.

Despite airline member programs often offering their members access to countless digital magazines via apps, it seems like we all aren’t ready to completely ditch the feel and smell of physical magazines. There have also been studies that have proven reading articles in physical print is better for both your brain and health.

Some of the publications that remain top sellers in airports include The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, US Weekly, Vanity Fair, Life & Style, and OK. As for those in-flight magazines in the backseat pockets, they tend to be getting rarer but they are still out there.

During the pandemic, one of the few in-flight magazines to continue publishing was the one put out by Qantas. While they may not have had passengers due to their fleet being grounded, they sent tens of thousands of print copies to their top tier of frequent flyer members.

Digital media will likely completely take over the industry at some point thanks to the large costs of publishing printed material. There will also likely be a fear now in many people to handle certain objects that may have potentially been handled by many other hands thanks to pandemic paranoia.

Perfumes and Cologne

Perfume cologne RF

Perfumes and men’s fragrances are often imported and therefore subject to import/duty fees. Purchasing these items in a duty-free shop could potentially save you a decent amount of cash. This is one of the reasons that fragrances continue to be a big seller in airports.

Some airports such as Heathrow are said to sell something like three bottles of perfume every five seconds via its flagship Terminal Five. This is despite some studies actually showing that some fragrances were actually priced as much as 50% higher in airports.

It largely comes down to which airports you are shopping at where you can expect decent savings. Generally, airports in London, Singapore, New York, Moscow, and Paris offer good buys on perfumes, especially on the latest releases that are often not yet discounted in your normal retail shops.

The other reason why travelers like to shop for fragrances at the airport is the often large amount of choice, fragrances that are sold exclusively in duty-free shops, and the availability of unique miniature travel-sized perfumes or limited edition gift sets.

Fragrances are often a quick and easy last minute gift that travelers can pick up when they may not have had time to look for souvenirs for friends or family back home.

Some airports like Singapore Changi Airport are now even offering their signature scents in the form of essential oils and candles.

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.


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