Interview – ARI marks National Day of Joy and talks people and partnerships

IRELAND. Leading travel retailer ARI has reinforced the key principles embedded in its brand expression, ‘Joy on your way’, launched last year, as it marks National Day of Joy today (26 June).

The state-owned Irish company and industry pioneer is celebrating with its teams around the world, and has also marked the occasion with a makeover of The Moodie Davitt Report desktop homepage along with an elegantly curated treatment of our mobile website.

Speaking to The Moodie Davitt Report, Chief Executive Officer Ray Hernan and Chief Joy Ambassador Paula Pryor reflected on the roll-out of the brand expression across the network, highlighting how it has been received by teams and by external partners.

Click to open The Moodie Davitt eZine, which features an edited version of this interview

We feature highlights of that interview in words and video in this interview, alongside messages of joy from ARI teams and individuals that reflect the impact of the corporate and consumer-facing brand identity introduced in February 2023.

ARI put the theme of ‘joy’ front and centre of its new brand expression – taking into account the fact that airports are places of emotion, with humanity at its most expressive and intense, and recognising the role of shopping and other services in influencing traveller experiences. The aim was to underscore what the travel retailer terms its point of difference and to “harness the power of human connection across all aspects of the business”.

National Day of Joy: ARI’s celebration in song

ARI chose to mark the National Day of Joy with a song specially recorded and produced for the occasion.

Arranged and sung by Solveiga Pangoniene from ARI’s Global Retail Excellence team, the recording was a real team effort with backing vocals from ARI employees Tom Byrne, Eva Cummins, Maria Kelly, Adam Whelan, Nikiwe Samkange and Andrea McLeod.

Solveiga’s ARI colleagues noticed that she loves to sing and invited her to cover the track, John Legend’s If You’re Out There, for the ARI National Day of Joy video.

Originally from Lithuania and living in Ireland since 2002, Solveiga’s passion for arts was noticed in early childhood by teachers at school. She participated in singing, literature reading competitions and theatre productions.

Solveiga joined the Lithuanian Community Theatre in Ireland ‘Dublino Mazasis Teatras’ (non-profit organisation) back in 2013 and later joined a trad music band ‘SAVI’ in 2014. Solveiga regularly sings at Lithuanian Community events and the Lithuanian Embassy.

Hernan said: “National Day of Joy represents an opportune time to celebrate as it is just over a year since we launched our new brand expression. It has been a journey, one we can look back on with pride. We can leverage the Day of Joy to celebrate our achievements and what we stand for at ARI.”

On the impact of this new brand expression and architecture, Hernan added: “It was a chance to connect some of the brand pieces that may have been separate, from our strategy to our tone of voice to our B2B and B2C customer. What this has done has pulled together the strands of our business to deliver a much more cohesive message to our own people, but also to our customers, to our brands and to our airport partners.

Waving for joy: Staff and management celebrating the 25th anniversary of ARI North America

Click on the YouTube video to watch highlights of The Moodie Davitt Report President & Editorial Director Dermot Davitt’s video interview with ARI CEO Ray Hernan and and Chief Joy Ambassador Paula Pryor. Above, Hernan looks back on the year since ARI launched its ‘Joy on your way’ rebrand and introduces the National Day of Joy (26 June) 


“It reflects the new, modern ARI, the confident ARI, the vibrant ARI. And ‘Joy on your way’ is a message that everyone can understand and get behind, wherever you are in the world – and that’s important as a business with global reach.

“And of course it has a wonderful Ambassador in Paula Pryor who encapsulates all of the passion and energy that we want from our people and how we engage with travellers as an organisation.”

Assessing the impact of the brand expression, Pryor said: “Joy is the essence of ARI. I’m very proud to work for ARI and one of the reasons is that it is all about the people.

“In the past year I have been communicating the messages behind the brand, but in fact, the values that we live by have always been there; this just gives it a name.

Ray Hernan discusses the thinking behind the ‘Joy On Your Way’ rebrand

“It is lived by our people and is reflected in how they behave and show up every day. That involves raising the bar just a little higher every day in what our teams can do for customers and there are many examples.

“We had a recent example right here in Dublin. We had a family coming through with two boys with special needs. The boys spotted a hoodie they loved but there was only one on the shop floor. One of our colleagues who was going on her break saw the situation, went to the store room, dug through eight boxes of stock until she found another, and that made the family’s day. There are countless other examples of our teams making a difference.

“So ‘Joy on your way’ gives us a universal way to show up every day; it doesn’t belong to anyone in particular, it belongs to us all and everyone carries that responsibility.”

Bringing joy to the retail environment at Cyprus Duty Free
Engaging the traveller at Portugal Duty Free

Hernan described how those values translate at global level. “It has been a rallying call, which came at a time post-Covid that was very tough for the industry. People were energised and it helped us reinforce the message that we are actually very good at our jobs. This is a way to display that confidence through our front and back of house teams.

“We have invested behind this and put more money into training this year than ever, with Paula leading workshops across the organisation.

“Ultimately it means having people who know how and when to engage, and doing it in a relaxed, charming, confident way that is professional but not stuffy.”

Paula Pryor explores the impact of ‘Joy on your way’ over the last year

Pryor also spoke about creating the next wave of joy among teams in the network, in a way that cuts across nationalities, languages and cultures.

“The ARI culture builds trust and loyalty with the customer and the next stage is to ensure that is consistent everywhere.

“We are global in reach but wherever we go we make ourselves at home. We offer a bespoke experience and that makes us different. It’s emotional and not transactional.”

In the video above, Paula Pryor discusses how ARI is communicating the ‘Joy on your way’ ethos to new locations 

She added: “We have such diversity too. I was proud to see our ‘Joy on your way’ programme launched in Abu Dhabi, a new location for us since 2023 and a testing ground. It really landed there and it goes back to the fact that ‘joy’ is universal and understood. The teams there articulated what we wanted to convey so well, not just in words, but through art and music. We see it also in Portugal Duty Free [where ARI launched operations in 2022]. It shows us that people are people and it is they who bring the energy to the shops.”

Hernan said the ‘joy’ brand expression also helps to reaffirm ARI’s status as a pioneer in the industry since the first duty free store opened at Shannon Airport in 1947.

“We are in a highly competitive environment that is changing constantly. With that in mind we ask our teams to do what they do even better. Ultimately happy passengers are good customers. They will remember the experience with us and the airports they visit.

“That in turn helps reinforce the first pillar in our strategy, which is to maximise our existing business. If we do that then ‘joy’ is not just words on a page, but a lived experience and it gives us a proven track record and a point of difference that we believe only ARI can offer.”

Saluting teams at the ARI Star Awards

With that in mind, how does ‘Joy on your way’ feed into the vision and plan to grow ARI’s business today, we asked?

Hernan said: “We aspire to be the favoured partner and retailer of choice for airports. That is our ‘north star’ and we have to be consistent and live it every day.

“It comes back to being better in our existing business but having proven our ability to be a good retailer, it is about maximising our ability to win new business.

“There are many opportunities out there – we have never gone after as many as we are doing today – but we need to be disciplined, prioritise and target business that can be managed profitability, not just won. And within this, showing how we can raise the bar for customer will be something we are known for across the industry, and will benefit us in the bids we are seeking to win.”

Celebrating achievement at Muscat Duty Free

Elaborating on how ARI is prioritising opportunities, Hernan said that partnership has to be a two-way street with airports. “If we feel that an airport or a local partner is not aligned with our approach, we won’t do it. We need to ensure any relationship is collaborative.

“Geographically we are targeting more business in Europe which was not always the focus. There are quite a few opportunities though we will be selective. We are going after North American opportunities but those with a significant duty free proposition.

“We also look at the Middle East, Saudi Arabia for example. The pipeline is full, It is about choosing the right opportunities.”

Hernan also addressed some key market trends as ARI continues to grow in its key markets, after announcing €1.24 billion in managed turnover in 2023, a rise of +13.9% year-on-year.

“The recovery we saw in 2023 has continued into 2024,” he said. “We had concerns over headwinds ranging from geopolitics to the cost of living but business so far this year has been solid. We are growing year-to-date at double digits following double-digit growth last year.

“There are some changes in how people are shopping. Promotional activity and messaging is increasingly important as people seek value. They continue to spend on exclusives and on newness but promotional zones and pricing have an important place.

“Among the categories, beauty, led by fragrances, is very strong; we see tobacco performing well, led by price and value messaging, and we see local brands performing well. Sense of place remains an important factor that we are leveraging – including developing our own local products in other markets as we have done successfully in Cyprus.

“Liquor is very interesting around our big brand collaborations in particular. Here in Ireland our launch of Redbreast Cuatro Barriles Edition with Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail has been a big success, selling 3,000 bottles in its first month as a global exclusive for ARI. So exclusives matter, as do price promotions on liquor.

“What we also see is the power of social media, notably the tremendous impact of TikTok and how it resonates with consumers in lifting brand awareness. So while our classic brands perform well, niche brands are really coming through strongly. An example is L’Occitane brand Sol de Janeiro which is really cutting through with the customer. We’ll see much more of this.”

Hernan also commented on recent openings for ARI including Zayed International Airport in Abu Dhabi and Edmonton Airport, as well as progress at Portugal Duty Free.

“At Abu Dhabi, which is a wonderful airport where we have excellent locations, we have been working closely with the airport on understanding flows, especially among transit travellers, and driving penetration among these passenger groups. Relatively speaking we have performed well and I’m happy with how we have reacted to the nuances in the passenger mix with our proposition.

“We are seeing the airport driving significant passenger growth and we have a world-class offer, especially in beauty where we have set a benchmark for airports, with the support of the brands and the airports.”

Essence of Arabia: ARI is taking advantage of its enviable beauty space at Zayed International Airport

The Portugal Duty Free business is going “from strength to strength” said Hernan, as evidenced by the fact that sales are reaching new highs year-on-year in Lisbon and Faro even as construction work continues. “We are helped by the positive relationship with ANA Aeroportos and Vinci Airports and we hope we can leverage and extend that to other markets in future.”

Hernan also highlighted the performance of the Canadian business which he said continues to perform very well even without the return of Chinese shoppers at scale. “We are optimistic about Canada for 2024, so much so that we are engaged with Montréal Airport about a compete refurbishment of our stores there. That is at an advanced planning stage and we hope to break ground before year-end.

“We are also planning a major refurbishment at Dublin Airport Terminal 1. We are seeing strong passenger growth but the proposition needs to be modernised to meet the expectations of the customer.”

Hernan singled out Cyprus Duty Free as an example of how ARI can react with agility to changing circumstances. The Cyprus tourism market lost its Russian and Ukraine passenger base after the 2022 conflict began.

“We lost our highest spending groups but we changed our product offer, we saw new visitor groups arriving through the efforts of the airport and we had a record year last year, a performance that has continued into 2024. How our teams responded has been hugely important.”

Concluding, and returning to brand expression ‘Joy on your way’, Hernan said: “The rebranding is much more than a logo, it is an ethos and a culture. What is critical is that we live and breathe this expression every day.

“How do we want to be recognised? We want customers that are happy to shop with us, airports and brands that are happy to partner with us, and people in our teams who are happy to build their careers with us.

“If we deliver on those key messages, and we all turn up with positivity and energy each day, we will have delivered ‘Joy on your way’, we will keep our customers happy and we’ll deliver on our goals as a business.”

*An edited version of this article first appeared in The Moodie Davitt eZine this month; click here for more.

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