No more Interim Moodie Davitt Report Bureaux for… at least a week.
I’ve arrived home in London after a crazy but wonderful four weeks on the road. Hong Kong, Hainan Island, Seoul, Incheon, London (48 hours), Reykjavik, London (overnight), Orlando. My neighbours must have believed I was a burglar.
Spring has sprung here in London and I’m glad I’m here enough long enough to embrace it. The cherry tree in my front garden is radiant with blossom, the hilly avenue opposite my front door awash in a sea of brilliant daffodil-laden yellow. But even those blooms are already fading. I have been away too long.
While happy to be home, I’m also basking in the memory of the places and people I’ve seen in the past few weeks. The energy of Hong Kong and Hainan; the vibrancy and volatility of Seoul; the wonderfully warm welcome in ice-cold Reykjavik (how sad to see the collapse of Icelandic budget carrier Wow Air this week); and the chance to catch up with so many contacts from North, Central and South America as well as from around the world in Florida.
You’ll hear much feedback from the Duty Free & Travel Retail Summit of the Americas via stories quoting exhibitor and buyer numbers. Here, I prefer to focus on the bigger picture. Trade exhibitions and conferences have a big battle on their hands to remain sufficiently relevant in an age of immediate digital connectivity between buyer and seller. Factor in intense corporate pressure on time and costs (actual and opportunity) and the sustained corporate consolidation of recent years (at retailer and supplier level) and you have the formula for fewer buyers and fewer suppliers (at least the biggest ones).
Rather than wither on the vine – for that is indeed what was happening with its long-time exhibition – IAADFS chose to shake up its formula, location and ‘ownership’ (turning it last year into a partnership with South American Duty Free Association Asutil as the newly named Duty Free & Travel Retail Summit of the Americas).
For its part, Asutil gave up its annual conference to become part of something bigger and more pan-regional, albeit with a daily conference component. Three days of the show now begin with short workshops before the exhibition opens. This year offered a new and much, much better venue (the Hyatt Regency Orlando) and the opportunity for bigger brands to take private suites near the exhibition.
Will such initiatives be enough to secure the event’s survival? In the near term probably. In the longer term, the answer comes back to the issue of relevance. How to make the undoubted value of face-to-face meetings and brand showcasing sufficiently attractive in the face of the pressures cited above? Other trade exhibitions face similar issues, though the latter may be masked by the fact that certain shows take place in more buoyant regions than the Americas.
Even Baselworld (which took place this month), for so long a ‘must attend’ show for the international watch community, is feeling the heat. The biggest exhibitor, Swiss watches giant Swatch Group, quit the 102 year-old show last year, questioning its costs and relevance.
The FT wrote, “Market-watchers say the relevance of trade fairs is fading in a digital era with more direct relationships between brands and consumers.” Baselworld owner MCH Group last year appointed a new Managing Director, Michel Loris-Melikoff, to reengineer the event, by transforming it for the digital age, review costs and improve exhibitor relationships. Loris-Melikoff told the FT that he would even consider taking the show on the road. “It could make sense to use this strong presence in Miami, but of course it could also be in other cities,” he said.
TFWA has the two most buoyant exhibitions in the travel retail sector – its Asia Pacific show in Singapore and its World Exhibition in Cannes. The association’s insistence on keeping its global event in a small French city some distance away from a regional airport has always been built around the image Cannes offers, the suitability of the Palais complex, and the ability to bring the industry together in a setting that offers coherence and class.
A case perhaps of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But Cannes also means heavy travel and entertainment costs, highly questionable accommodation value, and onerous time demands for those from outside Europe, in particular. Operators of legacy models have a habit of believing the ‘ain’t broke’ part of the equation until… well, until it is broke. It’s happened in numerous sectors this century (retail, taxis, music, media – travel retail publishing being a prime example – to name a few). If I was to become President of TFWA in the future, I would push hard to move the show from Cannes, not because it’s broke (it remains a roaring success, in fact), but to make it more future-proof.
But the FT also offers an important insight into why trade shows such as those in Cannes and Orlando still have a positive future if they can maintain relevance. Its report quoted Jean-Claude Biver, President of LVMH Group’s watch division, who said, “Last year, Hublot sold SFr135m of watches in seven days. That’s SFr20m a day, SFr2.5m per hour. Where else do you get that kind of business? It cost us about SFr3.5m to be there last year. People look too much at what it costs and not what it brings back.”
The italics are mine. The latter point is what the successful event organisers of the future (and I include our own events, The Trinity Forum and The Airport Food & Beverage Conference & Awards) must focus on like never before. What does it bring back?