By: Peter Marshall

What on earth is happening with the annual TFWA World Exhibition and Conference in Cannes? This is a question that everyone in the industry is asking and the prevailing feeling appears to be one of uncertainty and confusion. Is the show actually going ahead? Will we even be allowed to travel there? Will there be enough key contacts attending to make it worthwhile?
Right now, our industry does not need more questions and uncertainty. At a time like this, TFWA should not be dangling the promise of a show which they may not be able to deliver. In simple terms, a ‘definite maybe’ does not cut it.
Of course, TFWA should be commended for their desire to deliver. After all, it’s what the industry wants – the Travel Retail business is a people business which is fuelled by interactions and relationships. But desire alone does not equate to reality.
We need clarity and transparency. So much of the current messaging about Cannes seems like piecemeal solutions to the enormous challenges being faced. Dangling the promise of a show at all without a concrete plan is just not acceptable. The recent offer of financial assistance to buyers, coupled with the original plan to provide stands at 2019 rates, does provide a little help. But they are not real solutions and they do not offset the obvious problems that remain. In truth, none of us know if this show can go ahead, nor can we even be certain that Cannes is the right place for it.
We all know about the ever changing international rules for countries in Covid lockdown as well as those emerging from it. More, even with TFWA’s latest incentive of assistance, the show remains a massive gamble for companies, many of whom are still haemorrhaging money.
If TFWA wants Cannes to happen, then they must take an unprecedented leadership role in the industry. What does this mean? Simply put, that the current offer of help must be taken much, much further – even to the point of making the show a non-profit event. Rates for guests and exhibitors will have to be taken to such a low level that it effectively removes most of the gamble. Extraneous parts of the event can also be cut to make it more viable. Arguably, for 2021 at least, they are superfluous to actual need. Pressure should also definitely be applied by TFWA to the hotels to measurably reduce their prices – a real bugbear for many.
But one thing is for sure: the industry cannot – and should not – be relied upon to commit to a potential event only to have it pulled away at the last minute. Held in person, Cannes can be a starting point to reignite the industry, but very few companies are going to gamble on the ambiguity that currently exists.

TFWA finds itself between a rock and a hard place. But now is the time to show real leadership.

TFWA’s position is unenviable. Indeed, it’s almost impossible. It’s worth restating: everyone wants answers at a time when the global situation offers little but uncertainty. Hosting an event in-person risks demanding massive financial outlay from members who, as already stated, have been under pressure for a considerable period of time. Moreover, there is the real possibility that not enough people will sign up – buyers and exhibitors. Is this the case now?
The solution? Well, as it always seems to be at the moment – it has to be digital. Perhaps the up-and-coming Asia Pacific Hainan Special Event will provide some answers. This will be the first time TFWA’s new TFWA 360 digital platform will be unveiled. The jury is out, of course, but if the event is well received by the industry, it will prove one thing – that TFWA has a viable alternative to a physical event.
If that proves to be the case, then it will be time for TFWA to bite the bullet and make a final decision – and, frankly, not a moment too soon.  Everyone is looking to industry leaders for some clear direction. We all need TFWA to be decisive and provide certainty at a time when it is lacking everywhere else.
It’s time for TFWA to get off the fence and answer all aspects of one, simple question: Cannes we do it?

Cannes 2021. Will the red carpet be rolled out this year? It’s no time for TFWA to be sitting on the fence.

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