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It’s 6am, officially 1 minute before dawn in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong as I begin this Blog but you wouldn’t know it from the near pitch black skies and the wind that ‘howls like a hammer’ as Dylan put it in his masterful Love Minus Zero/No Limit.
In normal times I would be in Cannes by now for the start of the annual TFWA World Exhibition. In normal times I would likely be having a nightcap this very moment with Dermot Davitt on the balcony of our Interim Cannes Bureau, the first of perhaps too many in the week.
But ‘normal’ is one of those words that has been largely expunged from common usage during this prolonged period of abject abnormality in mankind’s existence. And such is the case for pretty much everyone within the sizable Hong Kong travel retail community as we leave our suitcases to gather dust for a few more months and rely instead on social and industry media for news of the Cannes show. The prospect of a 21-day hotel quarantine upon return from France is a sure-bet deterrent in both time and cost terms for investing in a quick trip to the French Riviera. So there will be no visit for me this weekend other than to the local shops in this very pleasant seaside part of Hong Kong.
Facebook and LinkedIn are full of posts from travel retail sector folk planning their social gatherings this coming week. It has all the makings of a full-scale, at times riotous (in the best sense of the word) reunion. Morrison’s Irish Pub will be rocking on Saturday and Sunday night. Probably every night for that matter. Packed with Brits and Irish predominantly but with a pretty healthy smattering of other nationalities from around the travel retail world.
At least I hope it will be a healthy one. With COVID-19 cases surging in the UK (51,819 new cases yesterday) and on the rise again in France (6,127) and many other countries, everything about the situation screams caution. I suspect though that there won’t be too much caution come the wee small hours in Morrison’s or in any number of late night settings. With my health record, dodgier than a snake oil salesman, I am more sanguine therefore about missing the event (only the second time in 33 years) than I normally would be.
That the Cannes show is taking place at all is some feat. For many executives I know who are attending, their presence amounts more to a statement of solidarity with TFWA than the expectation of doing much tangible business. But business is also about the intangible. In a sector that prides itself on the value of face to face encounters to strike and nurture relationships, a mass reunion such as this will likely prove a welcome antidote to the sterility of the Zoom-iverse and Microsoft Teams worlds we have inhabited for so long.
One can imagine those first encounters in Morrison’s on a noisy Saturday night.
“Sorry Barry, I can’t hear you. You’re on mute!”
“Are you ok Dermot, you seem to be shaking?” – “Yes, no worries, bad connection between Galway and Nice, I’m just buffering.”
Or the texts. “Sorry I’m late to the Morrison’s gig. Can you send me the link?”
Will people, accustomed to wearing their pyjamas or sweatpants all day while working at home, remember how to dress for business? Will Sunil Tuli’s jokes which don’t make anyone laugh over Zoom (they’re not remotely funny) generate a more positive response live?
I hope those who are attending this year’s show both enjoy it and prosper from it. But, as I have reminded my team who will be there in force, I hope they will also remember that we remain in the grip of a pandemic that is highly infectious and dangerous. Balance, not easy after a night at Morrison’s, is important.
TFWA World Exhibition 2021 will be remembered as a kind of bridge show. A bridge built as the world learns to live with COVID. A bridge that leads to a place called normal. I hope to see you there one day.