Montblanc "Sfumato" collection

LONDON – Johann Rupert has put his money where his mouth is, taking a 5 percent stake in Dufry just days after predicting the growing importance of travel retail.

During a call to discuss fiscal 2016-17 last Friday, the Compagnie Financière Richemont boss said long-term luxury consumption trends will increasingly be about travel.

His theory is that the second Machine Age is upon us and that tech advances, such as AI, robotics and manufacturing practices will change the jobs landscape considerably – and also afford people more free time.

“What will people be doing in 15-20 years’ time? I suspect they’ll travel, they’ll want to visit countries, they’ll want experiences,” which makes travel retail interesting, he said.

“The Chinese are a highly, highly cultured people and they will travel increasingly. I am optimistic. Man will have more free time, and that will be spent on cultural experiences.”

News of the small minority stake first appeared on Bloomberg. Both Richemont and Dufry confirmed the investment, but did not provide further details.

Industry sources said Richemont’s move makes sense on a variety of levels, and the shareholding should enable Richemont’s brands to access good locations in key airports.

In a flash report following the news, Luca Solca, a managing director at Exane BNP Paribas, said the number of travellers is expected to continue to grow above global GDP levels for the next 5-10 years.

Solca also pointed out that Richemont has been struggling with “several unresolved distribution problems,” including dependence “on an ailing and inventory-rich wholesale channel for watches.”

Referencing Rupert, Solca said that Richemont could use travel retail to sell small leather goods, a key driver in Montblanc’s recovery.

“LVMH has shown in the past twenty years, that ‘selective retail’ – more so with Sephora than with DFS – has been a significant driver of value creation.

“Direct investment in travel retail is not without challenges, as profits depend on the timing and cost of airport concessions. Mistakes in this area – as DFS has recently shown with its Hong Kong business – can be costly,” Solca said.

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