An Indian tour de Force

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Today in Cannes was one of those rare occasions at an industry conference when a speaker simply fills the room with his power of personality.

I’m talking about Dr Vijay Mallya, Chairman of the UB Group, the Indian entrepreneur who ranks as one of the world’s great businessmen. The owner of Kingfisher Airlines, Kingfisher beer, drinks company Whyte & Mackay and a host of other interests, today talked about how he builds brands, how he sees India’s development and how he views the current economic climate.

Here was a man of real power and charisma who simply told it as he sees it. He spoke about the origins of Kingfisher Airlines and how he decided the carrier should be in the “aviation hospitality” not “aviation transport” business (a salient lesson perhaps for the travel retail channel). Anyone who has flown Kingfisher will know how hard the airline tries to deliver on that premise, inviting its “guests” rather than its “passengers” to board, for example.

And if delegates needed a tonic for these troubled times, they got it. “In this period of economic downturn, what do we see?” he asked. “We see growth.”

Later, in a specific reference to the travel retail channel, he said: “In an economic downturn, travel retail has its biggest opportunity.” But he made a critical reference to the industry overall, and particularly that in India, when he commented: “The duty free industry needs to promote itself – just having a presence is not good enough.”

He also warned against venturing into India with an international business template. “Anyone who tries to transplant an international model onto India is making a fundamental mistake.”

You can listen to the full address from Dr Mallya on The Moodie Podcast by clicking on the following link.

EPISODE 135. ‘Meeting Force India’ Click here to download  

Less successful (in fact the change in tone was jarring), accentuated by the fact that it followed Dr Mallya, was an address from The Skills Exchange Founder Hamish Taylor (pictured below).

From the time that he described himself as an ‘inter-galactic supremo’ (hopefully with irony) on an opening slide, he struggled to find the right tone to really engage the audience beyond some occasionally interesting insights into brand development. Much of the content would have been early management training fodder for many in the audience.

Dr Mallya’s address was the highlight of the conference which began on the candid note that it simply had to as TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen acknowledged the gravity of the challenges facing the travel retail sector. Twisting this year’s slogan ‘Challenging the Future’ he said: “The future is challenging us”.

He talked graphically about the “toxic cocktail” that faced the business amid an economic crisis and the first real downturn in air travel for two decades. “Our industry could stagnate and actually go into reverse,” he warned. “This challenge is likely to be more drawn out and difficult than ever before. We must rise to the challenge.”

The answer, he insisted, lay with converting more of those passengers who still travel into shoppers. “[It’s about] attracting and converting the majority of travellers who really believe we have nothing to offer them,” he said. “Convert the unconverted.”

It was in many ways a sombre speech but it was one that sought to offer a path forward – a path based on continued investment, innovation and belief. Not a barnstorming speech by Juul-Mortensen’s recent standards but one suspects that was deliberate. Contemplation not evangelism was called for today and we got it.

You can listen to the President’s address on The Moodie Podcast by clicking on the following link.

EPISODE 134. ‘Convert the unconverted’ says TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen Click here to download

The other highlight was a session on the scourge of counterfeit, featuring Luc Chatel, French Minister for Industry & Consumer Affairs; and Bernard Brochand, Mayor of Cannes and President of the French National Anti-Counterfeit Committee.

Counterfeit products are estimated to generate economic losses of some US$700 billion each year. TFWA today hosted the signing of the Declaration of Cannes – an agreement between nine countries to help tackle the issue within the luxury goods sector.

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