The Tax Free World Association (TFWA) has revealed a positive and sympathetic reaction from the travel retail community following last week’s decision to cancel this year’s Asia Pacific Exhibition and Conference in Singapore.
As reported, the decision was taken at a TFWA Management Committee and Board meeting on 5 March in light of escalating uncertainty surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) and the ongoing threat it poses to international travellers.
The event was last terminated in 2003 due to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which infected an estimated 8,098 people and killed 774 between November 2002 and July 2003 [Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].
Alain Maingreaud, President, TFWA told TRBusiness: “The reaction to our decision to cancel the Asia Pacific event has been very positive. We have received a lot of support from all parts of the travel retail community.
“Many people have expressed sadness at being unable able to travel to Singapore in May, but at the same time they understand and support the decision.”
HEALTH AND SAFETY PRIORITY
Maingreaud, who says exhibitors will be reimbursed space rental fees and that all participants will be refunded registration costs added: “Even the Singapore Tourism Board has said it understands our decision. The health and safety of locals, leaders and industry partners is their main priority.”
Prior to TFWA’s decision to cancel the Asia Pacific event, TRBusiness conducted a 24-hour flash survey to canvas opinion among travel retail stakeholders on whether the DF&TR Summit of the Americas (now cancelled) and TFWA Asia Pacific Exhibition & Conference should have gone ahead as planned despite the outbreak of Covid-19.
Asked whether the TFWA Exhibition should go ahead as planned, 50.21% of respondents said ‘yes’ while 49.79% said ‘no’.
Of those who had no travel restrictions imposed, a much higher 70.55% said they thought that the TFWA Asia Pacific event should continue as planned (29.45% voted against). The percentage in favour of attending the show (should it go ahead as planned) was even higher at 80.71% among those who have no travel restrictions.
While Maingreaud confirms to TRBusiness that the TFWA was aware of the survey results, he emphasises that the decision was based solely on the views of the board and management committee, which represent the members and a cross-section of the industry. “It was the organisers’ role to make a responsible decision, based on an assessment of the situation,” he said.
Further reflecting on last week’s unanimous decision to cancel the Singapore show, Maingreaud remarked: “It was not an easy decision and not one we took lightly. It was a decision made by the board and management committee, who felt that cancelling the event was the most responsible course of action given the circumstances.”
Highlighting the reasons for the decision, Maingreaud says ensuring the health and safety of staff and attendees was priority.
“Recent developments in Europe and immigration restrictions in Singapore, on top of those already in place elsewhere in Asia were a factor. Additionally, we considered the negative impact of the outbreak on the entire duty free and travel retail industry.”
CANCELLATION THE ONLY OPTION
Cancelling the event was the only option, indicated Maingreaud. “Given the situation, cancelling the show was the only valid option and the most responsible. There was no real other option on the table.”
Prior to the announcement confirming the cancellation of the Asia Pacific show, many will have been aware that the Summit of the Americas in Orlando, scheduled to begin on 30 March had also been cancelled.
Maingreaud, has sympathy for his International Association of Airport Duty Free Shops and Asociación Sudamericana de Tiendas Libres counterparts. “Each organiser takes its own decision, initially based on the local situation in terms of health and safety. It then makes its own assessment of the global situation.
“Everyone at TFWA has been thinking of the IAADFS and ASUTIL Board members who had such a difficult decision to make. We wish them all the best moving forward.”
In the months ahead leading up to the Cannes and Middle East and Africa Duty Free Association (MEADFA) shows, TFWA has vowed to work even harder to provide ‘the best possible platforms’ for the DF&TR industry. “Preparations for TFWA Cannes will continue as planned. We know 2020 will be a difficult year for all our members and partners, but we remain optimistic that the crisis will be over by the time we head to Cannes in September.”
Pushed by TRBusiness on the possibility of changing the format of the TFWA Cannes show to compensate for the cancellation of the Asia event, Maingreaud said: “It is a bit early to consider revamping the Cannes event. We will, however, look at the options available. If there is a decision to take, we will do so based on the thoughts and interests of our members and the industry at large.”
In the meantime, TFWA will continue assessing the impact of the crisis on its activities. “It is too early to announce anything specific,” Maingreaud remarked.
Despite the Covid-19 outbreak showing few signs of easing, TFWA is remaining optimistic and confident in the industry’s ability to bounce back. “Travel retail and Asia Pacific in particular has always been resilient and resourceful. The Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association, for example, has emphasised long-term positives, which give us confidence in the future of the region and on a more global level.”
Acknowledging the short-term impact of Covid-19, Maingreaud is confident Chinese travellers will eventually return ‘in large numbers’ and that travel in general will reach pre-crisis levels. “It is too early to determine how the second half of 2020 will pan out, but our industry must ensure it is ready for a re-bound. We certainly have a role to play in helping the channel recover as quickly as possible,” he concluded.