‘No one has all the answers; we must come together in recovery’, says TFWA

By Luke Barras-hill |

The returning TFWA World Exhibition (24-28 October) is hosting 272 exhibiting companies and 262 stands across 12,190sq m, including five official boats situated in Harbour Village.

Maintaining what are currently robust shopping and spending metrics will ultimately hinge on the DF&TR industry’s ability to unlock data and insight to supercharge the recovery, according to Tax Free World Association (TFWA) President Jaya Singh.

During an impassioned and at times rousing address to delegates in the opening conference on day on of the TFWA World Exhibition & Conference (24-28 October), Singh echoed the determination of DF&TR to capitalise on important indicators that are shaping the collective recovery.

“The last few months have convinced me that coming together and uniting as an industry is the surest way for DF&TR to emerge from the current crisis,” he said. “No single person, no one company has all the answers but by closer collaboration, talking to each other and harnessing our collective efforts we can re-make our business for the post-pandemic era.

“Today we have fewer travellers overall but conversion and spend rates are higher and still rising. If we can maintain this discipline post-Covid when people start to travel again, we will all be winners. To succeed, access to accurate traveller insight and data will be crucial.”

NOT EVERYTHING WILL BE THE SAME…

In acknowledging that the international travel terrain is far from smooth, even when regulations permit, Singh sounded a word of warning not to assume everything in 2022 would be the same as 2019 and called on delegates to ‘look beyond the airport retail box’.

Adapting to a business landscape not previously encountered will rely on a greater degree of exclusivity in the products and services offered, effective messaging and partnerships.

“International travel has changed and so have travel expectations,” he said. “To satisfy those, we will have to be more agile and responsive, providing a level of experience that is accessible across multiple channels, tailored to individual tastes by effective marketing based on shared traveller data.

“We must offer something exclusive that can’t be offered outside travel retail all of this in a framework that prioritises sustainability and social equity.”

TFWA President Jaya Singh made his first in-person address as TFWA President.

Among several key learnings from the crisis has been creating accurate sales forecasts and aligning investment to the present passenger base, which has in turn allowed for the more effective allocation of resource, Singh continued.

The President did not shy away from other challenges facing a beleaguered industry, including conversion not rising in line with elevated passenger numbers in better times and stagnating or declining spend-per-head.

Citing the ‘less than impressive’ response to sharing data and insights, Singh stressed the need for brands, retailers and landlords to forge relationships in the face of adversity by tailoring the retail offer to revised aspirations to create a fresh sense of excitement for customers.

CRISIS ‘ISN’T OVER’

HARDTalk Presenter and perennial master of ceremonies Stephen Sackur opened the conference, in doing so welcoming back many delegates to the global summit for the first time since 2019.

Setting the scene for what all attendees will hope will be a dynamic and productive week of meetings and connecting with new and old colleagues and friends, Sackur and TFWA Managing Director John Rimmer offered a concis precis of the existing global socio-economic landscape and what it means for the future of travel and travel retail.

Stephen Sackur, Presenter of the BBC’s HARDTalk current affairs programme on the BBC, offered his thoughts on the Covid-19 crisis and addressed several critical dichotomies that could affect the pace of the economic, social and geo-political recovery.

During a fireside chat with Rimmer, Sackur exclaimed: “The crisis isn’t over… we are in a very fragile place right now. There is room for optimism and that fact we are able to get together is one indicator that things are changing for the better.”

Variable dynamics such as the rate of transmissions across countries and the differences in approach from eradication to containment presents uncertainty, he said.

Rimmer pointed to the effect of Covid-19 on politics and the way countries are being governed, to which Sackur responded by referencing a key learning in the idealogical split between governments in their handling of the pandemic.

Interpretations of ‘competence’ and ‘incompetence’ when it comes to governments dealing with the challenge by being transparent and respecting their citizens was discussed.

Sackur cited Brazil, the US and UK as just several examples where there has been a ‘trust’ issue with their respective populaces and a hand-polling exercise among the TFWA’s audience indeed revealed a polarisation with respect to satisfaction around the way governments have addressed the crisis challenge.

In turn, the proliferation of misinformation was cited as a great concern in a climate where there remains a divide around science’s ability to impart accurate information that cuts across territorial divides.

“There are serious doubts about the science and data being driven by the science,” he said. “The relationship with science I think should be pretty straightforward. We should put great faith and trust in science and the rollout of the vaccine shows what science can do. But in various parts of the world, that relationship and trust is lacking.”

Rafael Schvartzman, Regional Vice President, Europe, International Air Transport Association presented vital statistics pertaining to the recovery in international passenger traffic and routes.

The ‘mismatch’ between the safety rate and travel permissions is concerning for the industry, added Sackur.

The way freedom as a concept is understood by citizens and the divergence of approaches means the success of emerging from the crisis will hinge on an ability to make compromises, Sackur said.

“The thrill of getting off a plane, landing a t new destination, travelling into town, walking the croisette – it’s life enhancing and brings joy back into life,” he added. “We all want that. I notice there is a difference between people who want their freedoms and are prepared to make compromises.”

Prior to TFWA President Jaya’s Singh address, conference delegates were treated to a series of video vignettes offering their takes on the trajectory of the recovery, with input from the likes of Charles Chen, President, China Duty Free Group; Dag Rasmussen, Chairman and CEO, Lagardère Travel Retail; Andrea Belardini, Global Chief Commercial Officer, Dufry Group; and Max Heinemann, CEO, Gebr. Heinemann.

An extended report on the conference will follow…

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