Interview: TFWA President on industry solidarity, dynamism and fresh thinking

By Luke Barras-hill |

In March, Jaya Singh (right) surpassed 100 days in his post as Tax Free World Association (TFWA) President in what remains a tumultuous operating environment for global travel retail.

Ahead of the TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition next month (21-24 June), Singh shares his thoughts on the unpredictable recovery trajectory in a quick-fire interview.

[This article is an unabridged version of a condensed interview with TFWA President Jaya Singh carried in the TRBusiness May e-zine. To read the piece, click here.]

In late March (21 March), you marked 100 days at the helm of TFWA. What have you learned, achieved, and hope to achieve as President and collectively as an organisation?

I’ve learned a great deal about the commitment of our Board and Management Committee. I’m very grateful for their engagement at a time when their day jobs are already challenging enough and our frequent discussions are helping us to respond to the fast-changing circumstances. This in turn has led to advances on various fronts, most especially, the planning of our TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition event in June and the launch of our TFWA 365 online platform.

The passion and diversity of the different points of view of all the people have been a standout for me. Clearly this is an industry that they feel they are owners of and they want the very best for it and all stakeholders. The consistently high energy levels demonstrated has also been most noticeable.

When you have this as well as the permanent staff and their unrelenting commitment as foundation stones, you end up with a very powerful combination that ‘makes things happen’, especially during times like these.

Above and below: Travel retail executives, colleagues and friends will be eager to meet in person once again at the TFWA World Exhibition & Conference (24-28 October). Source: TFWA/Nathalie Oundjian.

We have the critical ingredients to emerge truly stronger and better together. It is the essence of people’s DNA coming together that drives substantial progress on the basis of inclusiveness. The feedback received from our important member survey has yielded valuable insights that we are now analysing carefully, as they will form the crux of our purpose going forward.

Concurrently, we are building on our current strengths, as well as our relevance as a vital hub of the industry. This is what is being achieved alongside our commitment to deliver on our immediate term priorities. We are also working together with other associations so that, collectively, we are strengthened in their purpose as well. I am especially excited that this broader based representation will yield clear and sustainable benefits.

The strength of any Association is in its people, and I count TFWA fortunate in that regard.

What are your plans for the *TFWA World Exhibition & Conference?

We are still very much committed to hosting a live event this year and we have a number of initiatives in place to ensure that this is as valuable an event as ever.

We’re conscious of the support needed by key decision makers for the event. Our Hosted Buyer Programme, which will provide practical assistance to industry partners looking to attend TFWA World Exhibition & Conference, will help ensure that the event brings companies together and strengthens the partnerships that are vital to ensure a rapid and sustainable recovery for our industry.

The fact that there are a number of large-scale events scheduled to take place in Paris, Cannes and other parts of France during the second half of the year gives us considerable confidence that TFWA World Exhibition & Conference will be able to go ahead.

Do you have an update on the TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition?

We’ve had a huge amount of interest in the event, in part driven by the high-quality conference programme which will involve some of our market’s leading retailers, along with several senior executives in the travel industry. In addition to the insights our speakers will bring, delegates at our June event will have the opportunity to meet via our One2One meeting service, while participating brands can take advantage of the new TFWA 365 platform to showcase their new launches and product initiatives.

What are the broader macroeconomic indicators shaping travel retail’s recovery in light of what remains a slow, stagnant revival in international traffic volumes, and what does this mean for the membership?

The recovery will undoubtedly be uneven and for a global industry such as ours, this is one of our major challenges. Opinions vary on when the travel industry will be back up and running again, but whatever way you look at it, travel is unlikely to recover to pre-Covid levels until 2024.

The TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition (21-24 June) virtual event will feature a high-quality conference programme and business networking courtesy of the One2One meeting service. Participating brands can also take advantage of the new TFWA 365 platform.

However, the grounds for optimism are growing. The Hainan phenomenon is a clear indication of the demand for travel among mainland Chinese citizens. The establishment of travel bubbles, such as between Australia and New Zealand [partially suspended at the time of writing – Ed] and Singapore and Hong Kong [postponed at the time of writing – Ed], is also very encouraging.

The progress of vaccination programmes in some key markets, such as Israel, the UK, the Gulf countries and Singapore to name a few examples, has also been positive. Recovery won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be uniform across our global market. But the momentum is building.

How is TFWA responding to the perpetual challenge of ‘building back better’ and what does that mean for the industry in the coming months and year?

Our TFWA 365 platform is a major part of our contribution to ‘building back better’. Our aim with this project is to provide year-round support to our members and their business partners, providing a hub for exchange and a showcase for brands, while allowing industry professionals the possibility to network and meet key stakeholders virtually. I am confident that this will enhance the way we serve our membership, now and in the future.

Inevitably, we will need to adapt our live events to meet new requirements in future. That will mean practical changes, for example, to ensure we respect the health protocols in place at each location. We also need to ensure that we limit our negative impact on the environment.

But perhaps most importantly, we must never forget that we exist to serve our industry. That is what initiatives such as the Hosted Buyer Programme and TFWA 365 are all about. The ‘by the trade, for the trade’ ethos is still our guide, and must remain so.

*Since the interview took place, TFWA has announced the delay of the TFWA World Exhibition & Conference until 24-28 October. As reported, the association said it plans to offer ‘rebates’ to exhibitors subject to the association exceeding forecast revenue expectations.

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