Carry On: Airport shopping raises its game

With help from innovative retail and tech-enabled convenience, flying can be fun

Technology has helped raise the bar for duty-free shops around the world

With help from innovative retail and tech-enabled convenience, flying can be fun

Passing through Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) a few years ago left me agog at the retail therapy I’d been missing: an outlet of cheap-chic Dutch department store HEMA, a Suitsupply custom-tailoring shop and the Gall & Gall liquor store, where I scored a rare bottle of German Monkey 47 gin. Another terminal to shop: Melbourne (MEL), which recently debuted its elegant T2 Luxury zone, with a dozen premium stores from Armani and Bally to Ferragamo and Tiffany.


USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards calls a post-renovation Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) its favourite spot for American airport shopping, with nods to Orlando (MCO), where Disney and Universal Studios stores mix with Lush Cosmetics and Harley-Davidson-themed boutiques; and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW), with airport firsts like an Estée Lauder Beauty Boutique and a combo Wall Street Journal–Starbucks store.

In Canada, a top stop is Halifax Stanfield (YHZ), where the Liquid Assets store showcases the best of Nova Scotia’s local wine, beer, spirits and ciders.


Tech vending machines, like the Best Buy kiosks peddling headphones and Fitbits, are everywhere. Newer to airports are cosmetics vending units, such as the pink-canopied Benefit Cosmetics ones now in Canada, or the Sephora and Honest Co. boxes selling U.S. traveller lifelines. Uniqlo machine-dispenses wardrobe essentials at a dozen terminals, including Oakland (OAK), where lightweight down vests vend to Silicon Valley denizens. At some U.S. airports, old cigarette-style SouveNEAR machines offer local makers’ work, from handmade chocolates to jewelry and art.

And if you find yourself in need of a drink on your travels, you could do worse than run into a Moët & Chandon vending machine like the one at the Pendry San Diego boutique hotel, which contains an interactive photo booth in addition to offering splits of champagne.

Credit: Courtesy of Vves Potvin

Yves (left) and Sylvia Potvin at the El Cardonal golf course in Baja Mexico, where Yves got a hole-in-one


In the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts‘ buzzing Blue Hat Bistro, co-proprietor Yves Potvin is foaming his own cappuccino. The food legend founded his global plant-protein empire from Vancouver, and since selling it in 2014, he’s now disrupting culinary education.

“For us, the school was a way to get back to giving locally,” he says. But he still travels extensively: as his wife, PICA co-owner Sylvia Potvin, quips, “We travel for food.”

Chicago, where one of their kids is in university, means Macau-inspired cuisine at Fat Rice. A Burgundy wine journey, a Tanzania safari and “one of the best fish experiences we’ve ever had” at an ordinary-looking spot in Bukchon Hanok village in Seoul are among recent favourites.

A big world map inside the cooking school has red pins stuck in locations where its alumni work. Aspirations for PICA are also globally inspired. West Coast culinary experiences take after exploits the Potvins had in Vietnam and Thailand.

“We’re teaching students about entrepreneurship, too,” says the man who put veggie dogs on street carts everywhere. And also about community, through projects like helping Syrian refugees explore creating a catering business. That makes the Potvins’ day jobs akin to one big travel adventure.

“When you travel, you discover the culture through food,” Yves says. “You interact with people, and you connect.”

Canadians are the ninth-highest-spending duty-free and travel-retail shoppers in the world, according to a recent survey by Swiss firm M1nd-set for Travel Retail Business, dropping US$100 to US$150 per visit (just a little more than Japanese consumers).

Outspending us are travellers from:
•  China
•  South Korea
•  United Arab Emirates
•  Hong Kong
•  Brazil
•  Russia
•  U.K.
• Switzerland