Featured Interview: IAADFS Executive Director Michael Payne

By Charlotte Turner |

Travel numbers are up, business is good and the industry in The Americas is positive as the International Association of Airport Duty Free Stores (IAADFS) prepares for its 46th show in Orlando, Florida. IAADFS Executive Director Michael Payne talked to Doug Newhouse about the show and the issues facing the industry.


It seems that selling out this show is becoming a regular occurrence for IAADFS these days. Have you been able to find any extra space as you did last year, or did you reach that limit last year?

In terms of requests for more space we’ve managed to call out probably give or take another couple thousand square feet to add a few exhibitors, but frankly we haven’t been able to do too much more.


In some of the space we’ve been able to identify some existing companies who wanted to expand and we may have another company outside in the area where Desigual was last year – they really liked that space and are planning on coming back.


As you came down the hall last year from the escalators they were on the left hand side in an area by themselves.


There’s actually another area next to them where we might be able to utilize the hallway a bit more efficiently, but there’s no question we’re somewhat limited with the current configuration at the hotel.


We do have the opportunity to expand out as well into another whole ballroom in our future contracts, but that’s a difficult decision because you want to make sure you do it properly and you have to have enough people in there to make worthwhile for buyers to go in. So we’re not prepared to do that quite yet.


So I think we’re fine. We’ve been able to accommodate almost everybody. We’ve got a few people we can’t get space for, but that’s the story. It’ll be full, but I think it will look very nice. We’re ready!


[Above: Travel numbers are up, business is good and the industry in The Americas
is positive.]


How much of this sell out would you say is due to increased confidence in the US economy and other countries in the region?

I think that it’s clearly a combination of things: one is the economy is up and people are feeling positive and forward thinking. Business is also good and travel is up, so I think the mood of optimism is very strong.


I actually think that’s a global comment, but also certainly in the regions.


Like last year we have a fairly loyal exhibitor base and we have some turnover and some changes, but generally most people come back and I think that’s because the economy is good for them and they still see value in the show.


I think they view it as a business-to-business opportunity where at least they make the judgment that it’s worth their investment. They get a return on investment that makes sense, so they continue to come. I think it’s both those things.


But you know, I always think you should take it a day at a time because anything can happen and anything can change.


Consolidation and other challenges can come up, but I certainly feel we have a space that we should be able to sell out and the bigger problem is if we get more requests.


If that continues then we’ve got to figure out a way to accommodate those folks because I guess that’s a healthy challenge to have. But I think it looks positive for the future, but I just go along a year at a time.


[Above: The striking Zippo car parked up at last year’s IAADFS show.]


When you said you’ve got an option on another ballroom I presume that would mean moving into a huge space where people might end up saying that it is not full?

Exactly. As you go into a much bigger space then you’ve got yet another area that you want to make sure you fill up, but also make into an interesting and exciting exhibition area.


To do that you want to have enough companies to make it worthwhile – and enough of the right companies. So it’s decision. I just don’t think we’ve reached that critical mass yet.


It’s a judgment call, you know? You don’t want to do it too early and yet you don’t want to wait so long that you’ve got a huge backlog and you start to lose people’s interest because you can’t accommodate them.


You also want to have new products and you want to be able to accommodate some new exhibitors, so we’ll just keep monitoring it. It’s not really time yet. Of course, that also has implications on the space for the hotel as well, right, because they can obviously utilise that space for other things.


That obviously impacts on their ability to hold other business events at the front and back ends of our event.


So it’s a fine line keeping the numbers nice and bustling, rather than having it too crowded – but you are still some way away from crowded aren’t you?

I think so, just as long as there’s room for the buyers to move around and basically get what they want. It’s a three-day show, so they want to be able to see everybody in that time period and I think we’ve got it just about right for now.


So what was the general feedback from your exhibitor survey last year? What did people ask for more or less of this year, if anything?

Good question. The feedback from last year was generally very, very positive. You should know that when we get these surveys in we take them very seriously.


We read all of them and the IAADFS Board gets copies of every survey and comment. We don’t cherry pick and we have a discussion around what was good, what we did right and what our issues were.


But overwhelmingly, people thought the show was excellent or very good.


We gave them category rankings and five different places to make a generic observation about the show and very good/excellent was the response from the overwhelming majority.


The areas that people focused on that we’re trying to address include some complaints about the quality of the food and associated costs in some areas.


Some people think it’s great, some people think it could be better and some people thought it was too expensive. So we are working with the hotel on that. There were some concerns about not having enough places to eat lunch, so that’s a logistical issue with the hotel trying to figure out how we can maybe open up more places to have better food options for folks.


There were also some complaints about the costs of the Wi-Fi they have to pay in their rooms which we’re trying to negotiate with the hotel. A few years ago you and I talked about the responsibility for paying for the Wi-Fi on the trade show floor for everybody.


So people don’t have that cost anymore, but the rooms are a different story, so we’re trying to accommodate that.


[Above: The Marriott Orlando World Center Resort.]


Some people who don’t stay in the hotel have also complained about the cost of parking. But in terms of the service orientation and the way the show flows and so forth, people were generally happy.


Some people seemed worried about how the show drops off a little bit at the end of the day and on the third day.


I was looking at that last year and clearly you have less people in the house at that point, but what I did notice was that there were still meetings going on around the booths I walked by.


So as long as the exhibitors feel like they are getting business meetings right up until the end then I think we’re probably OK with that. But there’s no question you get a little bit less of a crowd after lunchtime on Wednesday. But I think that’s true of every trade show I’ve ever been in.


The last day is always a little trickier and we did hear from a couple of people asking about what we could about that. Do you have people stay longer and that’s a difficult one.


Now people’s time is precious and they want to get home as quickly as they can. On the other hand I had some exhibitors – more than a few and a good number – say they wish they had more time and even advocating that we go back to an extra half day – which we’re not planning to do.


So I think generally the reaction was very positive and I didn’t get a whole lot of comments beyond what I have just shared with you.


[Above: The TRBusiness Orlando round table video discussion in 2013 featured key operators, including IAADFS President Pancho Motta, DFS North America Vice President Joe Lyons, and TRBusiness’ Charlotte Smith.]


So what are you hearing about the business from the members in terms of the mood of the industry – you always tend to get a good cross section of views from people….

Well I have actually been paying close attention to that. We had a Board meeting just the other day and we’ve been listening to the operators talking about the business and the suppliers and again, I think it’s very upbeat.


They seem to be feeling good about the business and I think people are recognizing that not only is travel still up and economy is generally better, but generally speaking it’s better than it was two years ago, although there are some exceptions to that.


I think they see governments investing in airport infrastructure and people putting money into stores and they are getting getting better and better.


Again, all the predictions about air travel continue to be positive, so I think people are feeling really good about it.


You know, there’ll always be a discussion about how we need to improve penetration rates in stores, which we agree with and I think that’s very important.


Then there is always the focus on what the spend level is – are people buying more product, or buying higher priced goods.


Now I don’t have hard data on that, but I’m hearing that people tend to buy a little bit more expensive products now than they did even a year ago and certainly two years ago. So just from talking to people that is constructive, positive, forward thinking and upbeat and I think that’s the mood.


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