Reflections on TFWA World Exhibition 2007

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

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Now the carnival is over…

TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes, the glittering annual extravaganza of the duty free and travel retail industries, drew to a muted close on Friday with a quieter than usual last day due to the Air France strike that hastened the exits of many overseas delegates.

The ‘breakdown’ of a trade exhibition is a curious anti-climax, especially to those involved in the event (TFWA CEO Olivier Charriaud neatly summed up the sadness felt by the organisers as the show ended on The Moodie Podcast).

The pictures above tell the story – one taken last Friday is full of the pizzazz, promise and panache of the industry’s blue-chip event, the other, taken a week later, is a symbol of a moment passed and of an industry heading back home to all corners of the world.

So what to make of TFWA World Exhibition 2007? The official statistics suggested a positive show – a claimed +6% year-on-year rise in visitors with a +10% increase in retailers and airport executives. But it’s the anecdotal impressions that matter more in any exhibition evaluation and by and large they were positive.

The city of Cannes still attracts many justifiable criticisms – costs and connectivity (of transport and of internet) primary among them. And in this day and age the hassle of having to transit to a regional airport is a particular hassle for many overseas visitors.

That said – and as re-iterated forcefully by TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen at the closing press conference, all cities hike their prices to coincide with such events. Is Cannes any worse than any of the viable alternatives, such as Barcelona, Dubai, and Frankfurt?

TFWA insists the hotel prices compare favourably with other alternatives and that the overall ambience and proximity of the hotels to the exhibition centre still make Cannes the best location of all for such a luxury-focused show.

Perhaps.  But there remains room for improvement by the city – and it’s achievable too given that TFWA has real bargaining power at its disposal considering the huge economic spend the event brings to Cannes. Some delegates still claim for example that they can get cheaper rates by booking direct than through the organisers. And the city (hardly alone in France in this respect) has a patchy internet service, something that needs to be addressed urgently.

The Moodie Report’s criticism of the venue (not the event nor the association) in 2005 won us no friends within TFWA – and some unfair backlash – but we reserve our right to express constructive criticism. [Note: We no longer accept paid advertising from TFWA so that our views are always seen as strictly impartial].

So what does TFWA’s ‘school report’ of 2007 say? On the whole very good indeed and a testament to high-class organisation all round. Let’s start with the conference. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was a nice choice as keynote speaker in a year that celebrated 60 years of duty free.

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His speech was not particularly memorable – full of homilies like “I don’t know what the breakthroughs are but I know they will happen” – but for once it didn’t really matter. For most present it was simply an honour to see the great man in person and to relive that great moment in 1969 that so lit up mankind’s progress.

Opinions, predictably, were more divided on the speaker who followed. Descriptions like ‘retail guru’ are usually a guarantee of disaster as well as PR excess but Mary Portas, the UK’s self-style ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ (pictured below), was good fun, provocative and informative in equal measure.

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Despite the clumsy theme she had been asked to address – ‘Should the travel retail industry be over the moon with its life achievements?’ – the television star got down to basics quickly, noting of the channel (not unreasonably), “You all look the same, show me something different”.

Many of her observations were highly Anglophile by nature, some of them shallow and snide, but it didn’t matter a jot. She was there to stimulate and provoke and she did exactly that, being at her best when she drew on the supreme examples of domestic market retail practice around the world.

And, adroitly, she noted, “It [airport retail] is no longer about quite naff [crass] hard-sell promotion – it’s about understanding my lifestyle.”

In similar vein she continued: “One of the things that strikes me about airport retailing is the lack of personality… the shopper of the future will take product for granted. The retailer of the future will replace their product obsession with a fanatical attention to the experience.

“You’re better placed than anyone to deliver it. You have an inbuilt sense of exclusivity. You can create a curated, engineered, fabulous shopping experience!”

Good stuff and well done to TFWA conferences boss Michael Barrett for having the courage to call in such a challenging speaker.

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We also liked the contributions of Juul-Mortensen and ETRC President Frank O’Connell. Both are ubiqitous figures on the conference circuit but both have grown bolder in their speech-making and are much the better for it.

Juul-Mortensen – re-elected for another year as TFWA President later in the week – has long forgone the bland corporate speak that often marked the association’s addresses in years gone by. He now truly evokes the character – and responsibility – befitting the head of a powerful suppliers’ association.

“Our future lies in premiumisation, exclusivity and innovation,” he said, in a direct challenge to the price-driven obsession of the duty free channel. “Simply competing head-on with the High Street is not going to drive growth.”

Juul-Mortensen pulled no punches when it came to assessing the industry’s lack of contributions to the ETRC fighting fund for the aviation security crisis. “This should have brought a deluge of offers – it didn’t,” he said. “Many of the industry’s leading retailers and brands have contributed nothing.”

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O’Connell (above) picked up on that point – he and the ETRC are desperate for governments around the world to request mutual recognition from the European Commission to allow a comparative return to normality for transit passengers carrying duty free liquids in excess of 100ml.

A technological solution (devices that will spot liquid explosives quickly, easily and affordably) is still some time off, he argued. “More applications [to the Commission] are urgently needed, especially from the [governments representing] major international hubs,” he said.

“Most countries around the world are eligible but only five have applied,” he said. “We have put industry credibility at stake. What has happened? Virtually nothing… we desperately need people banging on the door of the Commission and saying ‘Give us recognition’. You must as a matter of urgency convince your governments to contact the Commission now.”

It was an impressively vibrant performance from an industry veteran who has given so much to this campaign. But the obvious question, not asked until a ETRC-led workshop later, was ‘Why are countries not signing up?’

Unfortunately that workshop didn’t really answer the question nor did it show the industry in the best of lights. One wonders how long the current situation can continue whereby good men and true like Frank O’Connell have to stand up in front of audiences and effectively ‘put the hat round’ to fund work that benefits the whole travel retail channel.

At the risk of offending sensitivities, that’s both demeaning and ineffectual. It’s time to move travel retail advocacy onto a permanent, professional footing as seen for many years in the US.

O’Connell has a day job to attend to – as Aer Rianta (Dublin Airport Authority) Director of Retail – but perhaps a way can be found to have him (or a suitable alternative) lead a full-time European office, with his efforts supported by full-time research, communications and administrative staff? Currently the Irishman’s exasperation at the lack of funding, will and commitment is plain for all to see. Change is needed. And fast.

And so to the rest of Cannes. Here, in no particular order are some highlights:

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* The ‘Free of Duty’ Saturday night Rugby World Cup party (above and below). What a glorious celebration of our sector’s internationalism, spontaneity and generosity. Around US$20,000 was raised for children’s cleft charity The Smile Train at a jam-packed night that saw most attendees wearing their national colours and joining in a carnival-like atmosphere as the South Africans (sponsored by African Pride Wines) deservedly won a tight final ahead of Scorpio Distributors-sponsored England.

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* The Gebr Heinemann/Hugo Boss Travel Value Golf Cup. The traditional ‘Cannes-opener’ was its usual great success, bringing together over 100 of the industry’s keenest golfers across two fine courses – in the process raising 15,000 Euros for The Smile Train children’s cleft charity.

Fantastic stuff – and warm tribute deserves to be paid to both sponsoring partners as well as that incredible Master of Ceremonies, the one and only Harry ‘the real’ Diehl, Chairman of the Advisory Board at Gebr Heinemann.

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Now in his 70s (age not 18-hole score) Harry is indisputably the industry’s most popular figure. He is also its most respected. A rare combination. But then Harry (pictured below with Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne of the Estee Lauder Companies at the MAC cocktail on Monday evening) is the rarest of men.

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(Pictured above at the Gebr Heinemann/Hugo Boss tournament are – left to right – Stuart McGuire of Scorpio Distributors, Colm McLoughlin of Dubai Duty Free and Hans Wohmann of P&G Prestige Products, which handles Boss fragrances).

* The TFWA AGM. Besides the news of Juul-Mortensen’s re-election for one “final” year – “and then that’s it” – the clear highlight was the decision to admit retailers as ‘affiliated members’, through their respective trade associations.

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While not being able to vote or join the Management Committee or Board, the affiliated retailers will have a greater influence on TFWA affairs than under the scrapped Buyers’ Advisory Committe set-up.

It’s a step in the right direction to be sure. Is it enough? That depends on where you are sitting. Remember TFWA is an association created to represent the interests of suppliers so perhaps a ‘half-way house’ first step was always likely. The evolution of the supplier/retailer power balance should be fascinating.

* Cocktails and dinners: As usual these were many and varied and it was almost impossible for many guests – including The Moodie Report – to fulfil all obligations, especially on the ultra-crowded Monday and Tuesday nights.

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The Gala Evening – featuring a suitably retrospective 60-year theme – was highly rated and there were a series of glamourous events during the week, arguably highlighted by the MAC evening (pictured above).

As always the Habanos dinner (pictured below showing Fred Kiang of Sunrise Duty Free, Claus Heinemann of Gebr Heinemann and Ico Smid of Schiphol Retail) was a celebration of international friendship – and some great Cuban cigars.

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The tobacco sector’s still vital presence in the channel was further underlined by a fantastically enjoyable evening hosted by JTI, including a hilarious performance by the ‘Three Waiters’ (below)

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* The Frontier Awards: One of our perennial irritations at traditional trade press practice is the failure of individual titles to report on the events or successes of their rivals (was The Moodie Report’s and Hugo Boss’s charity dinner on behalf of The Smile Train really not worth a mention?). For our part we think the Frontier Awards is a valuable part of Cannes (though we reckon they should move away entirely away from the self-nomination practice).

The evening attracts a ‘Who’s Who’ of the industry and the quality of the judging panels these days generally ensures results that stand up to external scrutiny.

So well done Frontier and particularly well done Premier Portfolio, the independent UK agency and supply company (pictured below) that won the inaugural Supplier of the Year ahead of stiff international competition. Great stuff and well-deserved for the fun boys of Fun Plane fame. Who says nice guys don’t come first?

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And so the carnival is truly over. The industry may have been hit hard by the aviation security and LAGs issues over the past year but TFWA World Exhibition 2007 saw it in good shape.

Cannes may have its flaws but it undoubtedly sets the most glamourous of scenes for TFWA to put on a show in every sense. Few would question that they did it well.

[*Footnote: We welcome feedback on this article and on TFWA World Exhibition 2007 via this Blog or our Readers’ Forum – Ed]

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  • As I couldnt make it to Cannes this year, reading your Blog is almost as good as being there Martin ( actually, one could argue it’s better, certainly healthier, as I havent had to suffer any hangovers). Now I’ve read your report, seems that all I really missed was catching up with old friends….

    Tom Thomas

    Perth, Australia.