TFWA defends Tony Blair selection as keynote

By Andrew Pentol |

BlairTFWA2019

TFWA President Alain Maingreaud believes Tony Blair’s presence will make a very interesting conference.

TFWA President Alain Maingreaud has defended the Association’s decision to select former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as keynote speaker at this year’s World Conference in Cannes.

As reported in June, Blair will share his experience working with frontline UK and international politics, his thoughts on the Brexit process, foreign policy and other pressing geopolitical issues.

The decision to invite the British politician who was instrumental in the rise of the ‘New Labour’ government, but perhaps best known for his backing of the US-led coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003, has prompted mixed reaction from DF&TR stakeholders.

THE IDEAL KEYNOTE SPEAKER?

Many believe his appearance is timely, considering Britain’s possible departure from the European Union and are looking forward to hearing him address other complex political issues.

But on the flip side, Blair is believed to command a hefty fee for his services. According to one financial news site, lovemoney.com, the figure is up to £250,000 ($301,494). The Independent and The Daily Express, which are prominent UK newspapers also allege he pulled out of addressing a conference back in 2015 as his £330,000 appearance fee couldn’t be met.

With this in mind, there may be some industry stakeholders who believe a cheaper keynote speaker would have been more viable and would rather have seen the money invested elsewhere. TFWA has not revealed the fee for his services.

TFWA-Conference-shot

Last year’s TFWA World Conference drew 1,676 delegates.

Speaking to TRBusiness as part of a wide-ranging interview which will appear in the September edition of the magazine, Maingreaud said: “The choice of speakers at the TFWA World Conference is always debated by the TFWA Management Committee, whose opinions are taken into account before the decision is approved.

“In this case, given the unprecedented economic and geopolitical context against which our industry operates today— thinking specifically about Brexit, trade wars, tensions in the Middle East, Hong Kong and elsewhere — we wanted to engage a high-level speaker with authoritative views on these and other issues.”

Maingreaud, acknowledges that Blair’s actions in office can be debated and questioned, but believes this is the case with any politician. “There is also no doubt that his views on issues such as Brexit will be worth hearing.

“We understand that some might not agree with Mr Blair’s politics or past decisions, but we are confident that his presence will make for a very interesting conference.”

TFWA-Cannes-visitors

While registration numbers have been positive, TFWA’s Maingreaud says it is too early to obtain a clear picture in terms of final exhibitor and visitor numbers.

FEELING OF OPTIMISM

With growing passenger numbers and sales continuing on an upward trajectory, it is hardly surprising that Maingreaud, who joined the TFWA in 1995, is looking forward to his 24th Cannes event and first as President. He said: “I’m looking forward to catching up with members and colleagues from across the business and sharing views and perspectives about the future of industry.”

Despite the feeling of positivity ahead of next month’s TFWA Conference and Exhibition, it is important to retain an element of caution. “There are a number of potential clouds on the horizon and we as an industry must act as a joined-up entity to meet these challenges.”

Regarding the exhibition itself, which attracted 7,015 visitors (+3%) from 3,088 companies (+15%) in 2018, Maingreaud says it is too early to obtain a clear picture in terms of final exhibitor and visitor numbers. “We’ve been very pleased with the response and registration numbers we’ve had so far and can reasonably expect another successful year in terms of exhibition space and visitor attendance.”

In addition to the conference, exhibition, workshops and various social events, industry stakeholders can look forward to the new TFWA Innovation Lab (1 October to midday 4 October), for which TRBusiness was the first travel retail media to sign up as a sponsor.

Digital-Village-shot

This year, The Digital Village will be replaced by the TFWA Innovation Lab, which will welcome around 30 exhibitors.

TFWA’s Innovation Lab, which replaces The Digital Village exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the latest and most important creative developments.

It will welcome around 30 exhibitors showcasing novel ideas and new products in areas such as customer engagement, digital technology, brand activations, in-store design and sustainability.

Maingreaud enthused: “Building on the success of the inaugural TFWA Digital Village, we have broadened the scope of the exhibition to encompass innovation in all forms, whether this is related to digital technology, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, fair trade or other issues that impact our business.

“Based on feedback received when we launched the project, we are confident it will be very well received by delegates, who have the opportunity to discover new initiatives and be inspired when returning to their own businesses after the show.”

COMMENT: ANDREW PENTOL, SENIOR EDITOR

The decision to select former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as keynote speaker at this year’s TFWA Global Conference has been received positively in the main, at least among the majority of industry stakeholders canvassed by TRBusiness.

Many have their own thoughts and reflections of his time in office, but the majority seem willing to put their feelings to one side as they believe he will add value to the conference programme.

Fatima Ezahra El Ayadi, Business Development Director, Royal Capi-Lux, for example, says the TFWA has made a very good choice in inviting Blair to address complex political issues such as Brexit.

“There are several relevant topics which affect and shape the world economy, so I am excited to hear his story,” she commented.

Sven Olschewski, International Sales and Marketing Director, Braun also believes it is ideal to have Blair at the conference with the Brexit saga rumbling on. “One of my key customers is from the UK and I am happy the topic of Brexit will serve as a warning beacon of global political fragmentation.

“Overall, having high-profile speakers is an essential way of meeting the expectations of a global event where members of a $75bn industry gather together.”

A further unnamed industry source remarked: “We are very eager to know his future plans and hope they will bring some good news to the travel retail market.”

REASONS FOR CONCERN

Amid the positivity surrounding Blair’s selection there are those who have their reservations. Jeannie Archer, Sales Manager, Morgan & Oates simply said: “He is an interesting choice of speaker, but I am not sure what he will bring to our business.”

Jean-Philippe Aucher, Global Duty Free/Travel Retail Director, Stoli Group remarked: “I share the concerns of others in that there are so many other politically correct personalities to invite.”

One common denominator among all these reactions is that none even pay lip service to the hefty speaker fee Blair is believed to command. Some industry stakeholders, however, might have their own informed estimates of the money required to secure his services and believe TFWA would have been better off investing this in other initiatives such as its TFWA Care programme.

Over the years, TFWA has done an excellent job organising conferences and exhibitions worldwide and always welcomed feedback, positive or negative. It has defended our industry in the face of adversity and always added value whenever possible.

Industry stakeholders have every right to criticise conferences and events and suggest improvements, but do TFWA members have more of a right than non-members to voice opinions in terms of how the Association should spend its money?

For this piece alone, TRBusiness has yet to speak to anyone who has found it necessary to question the allocation of TFWA funds. This is in relation to the selection of Blair as keynote and in general.

Love him or loathe him, respect him or not respect him, high speaker fee or reasonable speaker fee, one thing is certain. Tony Blair will add value to this year’s TFWA Global Conference.

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