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(Bloomberg) -- Johann Rupert, the billionaire who controls Cartier owner Richemont, envisions a future in which humans are displaced by robots in the workplace and have all the time in the world to travel. He’s betting the company’s money on it.
The Swiss luxury-goods maker, whose brands also include Montblanc, on Friday disclosed a 5 percent stake in Dufry AG, the world’s largest duty-free retailer. Dufry shares rose as much as 7 percent in early trading.
The purchase comes a week after Rupert predicted that artificial intelligence and robots will cause an economic and social upheaval in the next two decades, drawing on the “Second Machine Age” theories of MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. While a swathe of the population may become unemployable, the uptake of work by machines and computers will fuel demand for leisure among those who can afford it, according to the 66-year-old luxury magnate.
“Man will have more free time,” Rupert said. “What are we going to do in 15 to 20 years’ time? Will they all play virtual reality games, will they be on Xboxes? I suspect travel will increase.”
Rupert said that buoys the economic prospects of France, Italy and the rest of Europe, as the number of Chinese visiting those destinations is bound to increase. In the past month, Dufry gained a Chinese shareholder as HNA Group Co. now owns a 21 percent stake.
Richemont investment in Dufry, disclosed in a regulatory filing, fits into the company’s strategy because it needs more avenues to sell watches and it’s too dependent on ailing retailers with oversize inventories, Luca Solca, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, wrote in a note. Tourism-focused retail will benefit as the number of travelers is expected to grow faster than global GDP for the next 5 to 10 years, he said.
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