Conference: Be ready for Asia’s transformation, urges APTRA President

By Faye Bartle |

Sunil Tuli, President, APTRA at the 2024 TFWA Asia Pacific Conference.

In his opening remarks at the TFWA Asia Pacific Conference this morning, Sunil Tuli, President of the Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association (APTRA) affirmed that it’s “Asia’s time to shine” in duty free and travel retail (DF&TR), with “a new era shaping the region’s future”.

“The region is experiencing the world’s biggest surge in youth demographics in emerging economies in tandem with ageing populations in more mature countries,” he said.

“There is no such thing as one single Asia. There are many worlds within this region.”

Alongside powerhouses China and India, he highlighted: “Advanced Asia – Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan – with the highest per capita GDP, these are the biggest technology hubs with advanced connectivity.

“Emerging Asia – Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand – has highly diverse, strong regional connections and is attracting high levels of foreign investment within the region, so has high potential to drive regional dynamics.”

Next in the spotlight was ‘frontier Asia’ – Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka – with economic potential underpinned by large youthful populations that will “transform their economies”.

“Across the region, this incredibly diverse mix of nations at various levels of economic development share a common drive for growth,” he said.

A busy turnout for the 2024 TFWA Asia Pacific Conference.

Circling back to India, Tuli affirmed that the country is “leading the pace of change with phenomenal acceleration to become a global powerhouse”.

He also outlined the significant investment in the region in travel marketing and airline connectivity, and also how foreign investment in Asia’s emerging economies is on the rise.

Explaining why these countries are so appealing to investors, he said: “They all have ambition, drive and growth in tourism and essential infrastructure. Their young populations is perhaps why foreign investment comes from mature markets within the region, with Singapore leading the pack, followed by Hong Kong, Japan, China, Malaysia and Taiwan. The younger generations present a huge opportunity for travel retail.”

With travel becoming a priority for a majority of this age group, the question is what these consumers will expect from travel retail in the future.

“How do we ensure we are ready for them, while also keeping the current customers happy?” he posited.

Age is just one part of the picture, however. Tuli discussed how, in East Asia, several countries are in population decline, although policies are being introduced to help counteract this.

“For the last three decades, travel retail has been obsessed with the spending power and the luxury preferences of consumers from China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. But now we must consider India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Younger and increasingly lifestyle and experience focused [consumers], looking for what’s new and different.”

He called upon the industry to be ready for this transformation.

Sunil Tuli takes centre stage.

He also delivered an update on the association’s critical projects and advocacy initiatives across the region, mentioning how APTRA will soon be launching a category working group for confectionery.

“Recent priorities include defending the highly regulated environment of travel retail with regards to tobacco and generation policies designed to prevent sales to underage consumers by unscrupulous retailers. Something that we can categorically state never happens in travel retail.”

He mentioned how smokefree generation policies are a “growing  trend’ initially led by New Zealand “and ultimately reversed” but under scrutiny in Hong Kong and Malaysia now.

“Other hot topics include health warnings on alcohol and sugar products,” he added.

Later this year, APTRA will co-fund an initiative with spirits companies and retailers in India to engage the Indian government with the potential of increasing arrival allowances, building on the previous attempts made between 2021 and 2023.

Key to cases such as this is assessing and demonstrating the broader market value for the relevant governments, rather than simply stating what the benefits would be for travel retail.

“We have plans for a new economic impact report, which we will announce this autumn as well.”

In summary, he stressed: “To get our future dynamics right, we must prioritise continual investment to keep in step with consumer aspirations and lead in different markets. APTRA will be investing in objective, robust research and conferences to encourage knowledge sharing and dynamic collaboration. Our mission is to ensure everything we do is focused on helping the industry success and flourish.”

READ MORE: India: ‘New era’ of rising incomes & hunger for travel

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