Nicknamed the ‘Hawaii of the East’, Hainan Island is China’s largest tropical island and an offshore duty free hub that hosts the world’s largest duty free shopping centre. Where better, then, to hold the 2019 TFWA China’s Century Conference, the Association’s fourth biennial assessment of duty free and travel retail’s most significant market? Drawing 418 delegates, a new record, the Conference took place over two days at the Grand Hyatt, Sanya Haitang Bay. The Opening Cocktail on the beach at the Shangri-La Resort & Spa enabled participants to mix with colleagues before proceedings got underway.
Day 1 opened with official welcomes from the Departments of Commerce and Finance for Hainan Province, generous co-hosts of the Conference. Wang Huiping, Director of Finance, announced that two further offshore duty free licences will be granted for the island in 2019. Charles Chen, President of leading retailer China Duty Free Group, revealed that 2018 duty free sales in Hainan exceeded US$1.5bn, of which US$1.1bn came from CDFG’s own vast Haitang Bay complex. Chen also outlined plans for a downtown duty free presence in major cities including Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau. WeChat Pay, a favourite payment method for Chinese travellers, travel-services provider Ctrip, downtown duty free retailer China National Service Corporation and the price-comparison tool Jessica’s Secret were among the other Chinese companies presenting. Stephen Hillam of NPD Travel Retail shared the conclusions of a new study into younger Chinese consumers, while a brand-owner perspective came from Cartier’s Cécile Naour. A sumptuous gala dinner followed that evening at the Grand Hyatt.
Delegates heard from two international retailers on Day 2, Dufry’s Andrea Belardini stressing the need for sales staff to interact with younger Chinese shoppers, and Eudes Fabre of Lagardère Travel Retail highlighted how differentiated customer experiences drive turnover. KOLs can strongly influence Chinese traveller purchasing, but Daxue Consulting COO Hu Yuwan warned against an overly commercial approach and said the choice of individual was vital to connect with consumers. King Power Group’s Sunil Tuli spoke of price mattering less than quality to today’s passenger. Other highlights on the final day included an examination of China’s cruise market, contributions from Nagoya and Schiphol Airports and a fascinating assessment of China-US relations courtesy of author and economist Ann Lee.