TR Consumer Forum: Flightpath to recovery

By Charlotte Turner |

TR-Consumer-ForumAs the inaugural Travel Retail Consumer Forum fast approaches, Michael Barrett, TRBusiness Head of Events and CSR and m1nd-set Owner, Peter Mohn, share their experience of organising the new ground-breaking physical conference; the first international industry event since the pandemic put a stop to them in 2020.

Mohn and Barrett discuss the objectives of the forum, the specifics of the unique consumer insights to be shared during the event as well as the challenges of putting together a conference in an ever-changing environment.

It must have been a tough decision for you and the team to host a physical event amid uncertainty surrounding travel restrictions and quarantine measures. How did you come to the decision and what factors most encouraged you to do so?

Michael Barrett:  It was clear from our discussions with partners, clients and other stakeholders that there is huge pent-up demand across the industry to meet again face-to-face; no surprise there. It will be two years since the last major global gathering for travel retail and while we’ve been servicing the need for knowledge through a very comprehensive webinar programme, we know that there is a strong preference for a return to physical, live events.

Michael Barrett, TRBusiness Head of Events and CSR.

Michael Barrett, TRBusiness Head of Events and CSR.

Of course that’s not to discount the value and indispensable information provided by our virtual events, which were all well-attended and very much appreciated. When we launched the first virtual events with the TRConnect webinar series, the interest and engagement was fantastic. The TRMarketplace event in September 2020 and the Travel Retail Sustainability Week in April were also both extremely positively received. However, it’s no secret that many of us are suffering from so-called ‘zoom fatigue’…

Despite the current scenario which has seen Covid cases increasing over the summer – as travel restrictions for many countries have been eased or lifted altogether – we were quite confident that countries could not continue to keep economies closed.

The encouraging vaccination rates, together with the industry’s readiness to meet again led us to take the plunge. It was important to ensure that the date of the forum did not conflict with the TFWA World Exhibition, allowing the industry to attend both events.

Why will this conference be different from other trade events?

MB: In the interests of delegates we never seek to duplicate other trade events and, as its name suggests, it is the consumer focus which makes this forum unique.

M1nd-set owner & CEO Peter Mohn: "Travel Retail stakeholders seriously need to think out of the box more."

M1nd-set owner & CEO Peter Mohn: “Travel Retail stakeholders seriously need to think out of the box more.”

Just as sustainability was the primary focus of Travel Retail Sustainability Week, so is consumer insight/research/data for the TR Consumer Forum. M1nd-set will share the latest trends and behavioural analysis during each session, again from diverse perspectives. This will set the scene for the ensuing discussion where we will discover new ideas and initiatives being implemented from the speakers.

At other conferences, we often hear attendees ask “what about the consumer?” and we are sure everyone will agree that they are too often neglected during discussions about partnership models. We have been mulling the idea of a consumer forum for some time now and given our close relationship with the leading consumer research agency, m1nd-set, it was a perfect match. This will be the only industry conference with such highly valuable and unique insights from the event co-organiser, m1nd-set.

How is it shaping up so far?
MB: We’re already seeing strong support with a great speaker line-up shaping what will be a truly memorable conference. The current context meant that there was a definite need for a conference for stakeholders to meet in an environment that can also facilitate networking. We will see a range of interesting contributions where stakeholders will share ideas on how the business can be reimagined to ensure continued, even augmented engagement in the new context.

We’re very encouraged to see that many companies are keen to share how they are adapting so they can help the entire industry come out of this crisis stronger.

Peter, is there really a big difference in the way passengers are shopping in airports since Covid?

Peter Mohn: Absolutely. When we look at how the consumers are engaging more, planning more, even spending more, there are significant differences across all world regions just on these three points alone. As you know, m1nd-set provides complimentary quarterly monitors to trade associations and by doing this we can see not only differences between regions since Covid, but also changes in behaviour from one quarter to the next. So there’s a great deal to say and share as it’s changing all the time. In all our years as shopper behavioural analysts we’ve never seen anything like this. I do not want to give too much away, though, so your readers will need to come along to discover more!

The TR Consumer Forum will take place at the London Paddington Hilton Hotel.

The TR Consumer Forum will take place at the Hilton London Paddington Hotel.

So without giving too much away ahead of the conference, how should retailers and brands approach the retail experience differently in this new context?

PM: In short, greater attention to sustainable goods and services and much more of an omni-channel approach. Click-and-collect is also necessary now more than ever before. There has been a significant shift in mega consumer trends since the pandemic as we reported in our June research newsletter. Consumers of all ages – including seniors, are now very tech-savvy and e-retail friendly. This is not going away.

We are also seeing that many consumers not only want to do more for society and the environment, but also for themselves. Health and wellbeing as a category has seen a significant increase in sales over the past 18 months in retail generally. Health foods and supplements may not be considered a traditional duty free or travel retail purchase, but there is now an increasingly strong demand among consumers for these products. Travel retail stakeholders seriously need to think out of the box more and adapt to new consumer demand following this shift in societal trends. We will be sharing findings such as these as well as other new and emerging trends across all the various themes in the programme.

The impressive delegate list continues to grow.

The impressive delegate list continues to grow.

Given the constantly changing rules on travel restrictions and quarantine periods, are you confident that the Travel Retail Consumer Forum can go ahead as planned?

MB: We are confident that common sense will prevail and that the latest UK policy will set the tone and provide a sensible example for others to follow. We do not believe there will be further lockdowns in Europe. However, the next two to three weeks will be telling. As we reported last week, it’s great news that the UK is now allowing travellers with both vaccines from the EU and US to enter the country without restrictions. That will give a huge boost in morale to the travel sector and related industries. Thanks to the airports and the industry associations for lobbying the government on that.

Industry stakeholders are keen for physical events to resume.

Industry stakeholders are keen for physical events to resume. 

We will continue to monitor and assess the situation to see if further closures outside the UK come into force as not every country might take the same open-up approach as the UK. However, all our partners know and are very understanding about the situation. We’ve been very open from the start on the uncertainty and are offering very flexible conditions for either a reallocation of the delegate fee or sponsorship budget to the next event or a full refund if requested.

In the worst-case scenario, if travel restrictions and uncertainty about quarantine rules prevent people from committing to the event in September, we would reschedule to an alternative date nearer to Christmas or Q1 2022. As announced, we’ve decided to extend the early bird deadline to 31 August following the UK Government’s announcement.

Double-vaccinated travellers to England from amber list countries including the US and those in the EU will be exempted from the requirement to quarantine as of 4am on Monday 2 August, the UK government has confirmed.

Double-vaccinated travellers to England from amber list countries including the US and those in the EU are now exempted from the requirement to quarantine as of 4am on Monday 2 August..

What other challenges are you facing?

MB: By its very nature, the travel retail industry has always been vulnerable to social, political and economic impacts, not to mention natural disasters, and in the last 25 years TRBusiness has played an important role in helping the industry get back on its feet. The global coronavirus pandemic without a doubt wins the award for the most disruptive event in the industry’s history.

Organising a physical event during a pandemic is no easy feat, however, our industry thrives on physical networking and travel is its lifeblood. Physical events will play a crucial role in travel retail’s roadmap to recovery, so despite being far from straight forward, hosting a physical conference is the right thing to do for the industry and the team at TRBusiness will do everything it can to overcome the obstacles which might be placed in front of us.

Over 57% of the UK population are now fully vaccinated.

Over 57% of the UK population are now fully vaccinated.

We have a fantastic line-up of international speakers in the programme, but we have to keep in mind that there is always a risk of travel restrictions being introduced to some countries at very short notice. With this in mind, as event organisers, we have to have backup options in place to cover for those eventualities.

The core content to be presented is an unrivalled and bespoke consumer research campaign (only available to attendees at the forum) from m1nd-set, worth an incredible six figures in value, which will play a vital role in assisting companies wishing to tailor their offering to encourage post-pandemic travelling consumers to spend.

Another challenge for any company during the pandemic is balancing overheads with revenue generation. TRBusiness is extremely grateful for the unwavering support it has received from both its long-term and new partners in the past 18 months. TRBusiness does not have a domestic market to fall back on, so without investment from these companies, this event would simply not be possible. A huge thank you to our current event sponsors Altia, E Gluck, Leonidas and Alfred Ritter and a thank you in advance for the many companies that came forward to support us in the weeks and months to follow.

We anticipate up-to 200 delegates being present for the forum, which is a smaller audience than one might expect in pre-covid times and we appreciate that it will be impossible for some to attend (many from Asia, for example). The temptation of course with an audience of this size is to charge more for tickets. However, TRBusiness is offering delegate passes for far lower than some other physical industry conferences.

People may be surprised to learn that the early bird discount rate is only £495; a very modest sum once you account for the costs of coffee breaks, lunches and a networking dinner. We know the industry is suffering and we know that the information this event will provide will be crucial in its recovery – it is important to us that this event is accessible to all companies, big and small. This further highlights the importance of our current and soon-to-be-announced sponsorship partners. Without sponsorship investment, this event would not be impossible.

Despite all of these challenges, the TR Consumer Forum has already attracted attendees from many of the industry’s leading companies including; London Heathrow Airport, Manchester Airport Group, Vinci Airports, Gatwick Airport, Edinburgh Airport, Lagardère Travel Retail, Aer Rianta International, 3Sixty Duty Free, WHSmith International, Inflight Sales Group Europe, R+F Travel Retail/Stena Line, Harding Retail, IDFS Morocco and Kaner Duty Free. Following the news that all fully-vaccinated foreign nationals travelling from the EU and US can now enter the UK without restrictions, we experienced a wave of new registrations and we are very confident that this trend will continue in the coming weeks.


TRBusiness is offering all delegates a ‘book with confidence guarantee’ should they be unable to attend due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The early bird registration fee is £495, which will be valid until 31 August. After that date, the standard rate of £595 will apply.

In the unlikely event that the Travel Retail Consumer Forum is postponed, the registration fee will be automatically carried over to permit entry to the rescheduled event. Alternatively, a full refund is available.

The offer of a refund will also be extended to those with country-level travel restrictions in place at the time the event is due to take place.

For more information on the programme and for speaking opportunities, please contact [email protected].

For more information about sponsoring these networking events, as well as other sponsorship opportunities, please contact [email protected][email protected][email protected] or [email protected]


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