The TR Consumer Forum 2022, organised by TRBusiness and m1nd-set, opened its global conference agenda with a Welcome and Opening Keynote session featuring an impressive line-up of high-profile speakers who drilled down on the conference theme of ‘Curating a Customer Centric Culture.’
Delegates took their seats in the grand Diamond Ballroom of the Parklane, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa Limassol, ready for this highly-anticipated knowledge-sharing session featuring Yiannis Karousos, Minister of Transport, Communications & Works, Republic of Cyprus; Peter Mohn, Owner and CEO, m1nd-set; Eleni Kaloyirou, CEO, Hermes Airports; Rob Marriott, CEO, Aer Rianta International Middle East; and Barry Wheeler, Head of Retail, Qatar Duty Free.
TRBusiness Editorial Director Charlotte Turner made a thought-provoking introduction: “Without delving into the immeasurable impacts of the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine, I would like to emphasise what many stakeholders have relayed to me in recent months,” she said.
“While the phrase is a little clichéd, I truly believe that many of the companies operating in the travel retail industry today are at a crossroads.
“This painful moment in the industry’s history has very sadly forced many to exit this channel. Others have had to be ruthless to stay on track, bullishly powering straight ahead, making bold decisions, and perhaps merging with other to become stronger organisations.
“Others have moved laterally; rethinking their business strategy or models, stripping things back and getting back to basics.
“While there is merit in all of these methods, the ones that will win in the end will be those who are constantly asking themselves; what does the passenger want? What does the consumer want? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we do deliver that? A large part of that must be analysing data and acting on the conclusions that are made.”
Yiannis Karousos, Minister of Transport, Communications & Works, Republic of Cyprus took to the stage to deliver a stirring Welcome Address.
He described navigating the challenges of the pandemic as a newly appointed Minister, explaining how Cyprus’ passenger traffic is now on the road to recovery following the crisis. He highlighted how, during the first two quarters of 2022, there was an increase in passenger traffic of 277% compared the same period last year and that average load factors in Cyprus are currently at almost 90%.
He credits the country’s strength, in part, to viewing the aviation industry in an holistic way – as an “ecosystem” involving all stakeholders, including the airports, airlines and operators, with the strong support of the government.
He pointed to the fact that, at the start of the pandemic, stakeholders were already thinking ahead to re-opening the whole travel ecosystem to prepare for the turn to travel, being an early adopter of the traffic light system, PCR tests for travellers and also PLFs (Passenger Locator Forms).
“During crisis there are always windows of opportunities,” he stressed, describing how the country’s main airports had strategically built back and added to their flight schedules in a sustainable way, along with delivering a “complete tourism experience” being a vital component in aiding recovery and future growth.
Following the Minister’s speech, industry thought leaders took their seats to discuss the various pillars of customer centricity, highlighting their respective approaches to ensure consumer concerns and expectations are top of mind across all aspects of the business.
Peter Mohn, Owner and CEO, m1nd-set revealed the first batch of exclusive consumer insights extracted from research worth six figures in value.
He shared how global duty free and travel retail sales reached US$55.3 billion dollars in 2021, versus $86.4 billion in 2019.
He went on to reveal market share per territory and category and delivered a stimulating insight into global air traffic trends and the cruise market, with a forecast to 2027.
Eleni Kaloyirou, CEO, Hermes Airports talked about putting Cyprus on the map for travel and tourism, aided by its strategic location at the crossroads of three continents in addition to its distinctive offering of authentic experiences and activities, rich history, delicious food and stunning landscapes.
She revealed that Larnaca and Paphos International Airports received 11.3 million passengers in 2019 and 4 million tourist arrivals, with tourism contributing around 20% of Cyprus’ GDP.
However, due to the pandemic, traffic was down by 80% in 2020 and 55% in 2021.
Kaloyirou explained how a number of new priorities were set to weather the pandemic, including protecting passengers and staff and ensuring business continuity, as well as enticing airlines to expand their flight programme through a “ground-breaking” incentive scheme. This was in addition to completing the commercial redesign project.
She said that the airports are now in recovery mode in line with the “impressive, release of pent-up demand” for travel.
However, the war in Ukraine and increased inflationary pressure have “added to the recovery challenge” she noted.
With all of this in mind, focus areas for Hermes Airports have included hiring and retraining staff and the need to invest in digitisation and sustainability.
In terms of the three key lessons learned from the pandemic, Kaloyirou highlighted important points covering ‘agility, people and communication’.
She stressed how to the organisation needs to be agile in order to be able to make decisions faster and to be easily adaptable to change, and noted the requirement to take care of its people as those ‘at the heart of the organisation and its biggest asset’. She also pointed to how communication with stakeholders proved to be instrumental in addressing the crisis.
The future vision is to be the ‘best in class airports’ offering a ‘unique Cypriot sense of place, playing a leading role in the island’s economy, particular in the tourist industry’.
Ultimately, the mission is to serve its customers ‘by operating innovative, safe and efficient airports in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner’, in addition to inspiring its people and the community and creating value for the country and all stakeholders.
Rob Marriott, CEO, Aer Rianta International Middle East gave a virtual tour of stand-out retail operations engaging consumers, including the redesigned retail offering at Cyprus Duty Free, the new Shop and Collect e-lockers and the eye-catching mobile shopping cart at Bahrain Duty Free, how wayfinding has been made easy at Cyprus Duty Free and the Little Changes, Big Difference sustainability campaign at Muscat Duty Free.
The big emphasis is on ‘creating an exceptional customer experience every time’ as well as ‘special memories of Cyprus’ at Cyprus Duty Free.
When asked how ARI effectively communicates the retail offer to passengers he said: “It means different things in different regions. I think how we communicate with passengers is changing, now that social media and having a correct and accessible website is so, so important.
“I touched on how we can communicate activity before, during and after [travel] is absolutely vital,” he added. “With some of the challenges we are going to face, such as hyper inflation etc, we have got to be really competitive and we know our pricing in duty free is. We just need to do a better job of educating and exciting the passenger with it.”
Barry Wheeler, Head of Retail Qatar Duty Free (QDF), spoke of the pandemic experience and described the journey of investment and growth at the airport both in terms of space and service and retail standards transformation, as well as what to expect over the next three months in the run up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Addressing the pandemic, he highlighted the “very specific circumstances” in Doha with Qatar Airways continuing to fly “more than most airlines” through the pandemic delivering “a real confidence in the airline and the airport”.
“Our return to growth and passenger numbers probably came quicker than most,” he added. “On the back of that, the good news for Qatar Duty Free from a trading point of view is that we are continuing to trade beyond 2019” – this is both in terms of passenger numbers and retail sales.
He spotlighted how the ways in which the safety aspect was managed gave people the confidence to fly.
Also, how the upcoming FIFA World Cup and the country’s wider 2030 vision meant that QDF continued to invest by opening and refreshing stores, which put the retailer firmly “on the road” to the World Cup.
In the process of QDF doubling its space ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Wheeler revealed how 18 months ago there was an investment in the senior leadership team to “modernise and bring new elements to the business” to aid this significant growth over this very short period of time.
“So the added benefit that we have in the decision making in terms of brand placement is to follow the customer,” he said. “We are very data rich, which has really helped us to make decisions over the past few months to the World Cup and beyond about brand placement, pricing and marketing.”
He mentioned how QDF services passengers from 150 destinations, including customers from the top end spend to the value end, so it is important to cater to the entire spectrum.
“With a lot of new space to open, it gave us a real opportunity to look at our staffing, customer service and recognition models and the way we recruit ,” he said. “We have recruited 850+ people in a different way to how we have before, factoring in personality and attitude to try and transform the service. We are already seeing big changes in the service we are offering across multiple brands, which has become a bit warmer and more engaging, which was an important move forward for us as a business.”
He took Hamleys as a case in point, and a staff training process to give people the confidence to show their personality and gel when interacting with kids and parents.
Looking to the future Wheeler said the FIFA World Cup will deliver growth for a period of time, but as a country and a business it is a “stepping stone” and a “journey on the way for us”.
He said: “The country is very excited about bringing people through the airport into the country and we do hope we see many of you in Qatar for the World Cup”.
Photos: Ogival Visuals
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