After an eventful 2015 with its cocktail of geopolitical tensions, currency swings, slower growth and health scares, anyone hoping for a quieter 2016 will by now be thoroughly disappointed. But then in a global channel like duty free and travel retail, ‘quiet’ is the exception rather than the rule. With Britain voting to leave the EU, the election of a US President determined to do things differently and China’s continued rise, the pace of events looks unlikely to slow down in the coming months.
In such turbulent times, it’s worth remembering that changes often bring opportunities. After initially struggling to formulate a digital strategy that blends online and in-store elements, our industry is waking up to the possibilities that a Millennial-friendly, omni-channel approach can offer retailers and brands. Who knows what openings may emerge from a Europe adjusting to post-Brexit life or the new administration in Washington? And I hardly need mention the potential provided by China’s increasingly numerous and adventurous travellers. So, in addition to bidding you an enjoyable close to 2016, let me wish you a 2017 rich in opportunities.
Asia Pacific came to the fore in May for the 21st edition of TFWA’s regional summit. While the commercial context was undeniably difficult - Association President Erik Juul-Mortensen revealed the first dip in worldwide duty free and travel retail sales for six years in his address – the prevalent mood was upbeat. Record numbers of exhibitors and visitors underpinned this positivity, and the ONE2ONE introductory meeting service was busier than ever before. A refreshed format drew strong attendances at the Conference and Workshops, and delegate enthusiasm extended to the Networking programme. Even the threat of some unseasonal storms failed to dampen spirits at the closing Singapore Swing Party on Sentosa Island’s Mambo Beach. To cap it all, TFWA was named ‘Best Exhibition Organiser’ at the 2016 Singapore Tourism Awards for TFWA Asia Pacific Exhibition & Conference 2015.
The primary objective of TFWA’s humanitarian initiative is to help vulnerable people, especially women and children, build better lives for themselves. Working as TFWA Care, the Association focuses on a limited number of projects that it can see through from start to finish, thereby ensuring a durable legacy. At the end of 2015 the Management Committee earmarked €472,000 for 12 different projects throughout this year. In countries as diverse as Haiti and Nepal, this money has educated and fed street children at a shelter in Cap Haitien, as well as establishing a medical centre in Kathmandu to treat around 1,200 people without access to affordable healthcare. Other projects supported by TFWA Care during 2016 are based in Africa, India and South East Asia.
Find out more about TFWA Care
The early-October timeslot for this year’s global industry gathering meant delegates met under bright Cannes sunshine. Business-wise, the climate was less hospitable however, as the difficult environment discussed at TFWA Asia Pacific Exhibition & Conference in May had not improved over the intervening months. If there were more brands, exhibitors and floorspace in the Palais des Festivals venue than previously, flattish visitor numbers reflected the tough trading conditions. But the 6,400+ professionals who came included more key buyers than the year before, and a large Asia Pacific contingent was testament to the only region showing growth in duty free and travel retail. As in Singapore, Conference and Workshop attendance hit new highs and strong participation at the networking events, where much of the socialising took place outdoors, was further boosted by the warm weather.
Despite the current challenges of marketing to travellers in the Middle East and Africa, around 500 delegates assembled in Dubai at the end of November for the 2016 MEADFA Conference. An impressive line-up of speakers took in the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, major local and global retailers and brands as well as experts from related sectors. They highlighted the region’s many positives, from passenger growth that outstrips other parts of the world and high levels of spend per head in the Gulf to the gradual recovery of tourism in Tunisia and Egypt plus the emergence of a younger, brand-literate African traveller. While careful not to underestimate the obstacles ahead, Conference-goers evinced a confidence in the future based on an expanding middle class eager to travel and rising infrastructure investment.