By: The Travel Retail Collective
Foreword by: Peter Marshall
Tuesday June 22nd heralded the start of an important industry event: TFWA’s Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition. I was not able to view/attend as I was travelling, but I asked 5 senior members of the business community to give me their full and frank views of what was discussed in the pivotal CEO session. I have dubbed this group The Travel Retail Collective, and it is an amalgam of their views that now appears here.
What do you get if you put five of Travel Retail’s most powerful people in one place? Apparently not much in the way of new insights and ideas.
The TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition kicked off this week with a high profile panel, featuring leaders from five of the biggest duty free companies in the world. China Duty Free Group President Charles Chen, DFS Group Chairman & CEO Benjamin Vuchot, Dufry Group CEO Julián Díaz, Gebr Heinemann CEO Max Heinemann and Lagardère Travel Retail Chairman and CEO Dag Rasmussen joined TFWA Managing Director John Rimmer for the discussion.
As it began, we were told that this was the first time that five such high profile Travel Retail CEOs had featured on one panel and, unfortunately, that was still the main headline when the discussion ended an hour later.
Despite a wealth of knowledge and understanding on show, the discussion throughout sounded eerily similar to what we have heard in conferences and webinars throughout Travel Retail for the past few years.
If one was so inclined, you could almost fill a bingo card with the ‘key topics’ and tick them off as we went through: Digital? Check. New shopper profiles? Check. Partnership? Check. A new business model? Check.
This is not to say that these topics are not important. They are each as vital as they were before, but there was nothing in this discussion in the way of new ideas or solutions. Each of these men is at the helm of a global powerhouse company. Their decisions and ideas shape the industry we all work in and there is no chance that they do not have new and exciting ideas. Sadly, they were not on show here.
In the moderator’s chair, John Rimmer ably kept the conversation moving, but he could not draw his panellists to offer anything innovative or different. Perhaps five people is too many to tackle even one of our industry’s major issues in any depth in an hour. But, if so, then why invite them all? Why not use the time to tackle a key issue in depth with someone who can offer – at the very least – a new idea?
It would be churlish to suggest that this was just a vanity project for all involved. But none of the participants seemed dedicated to offering answers and insights which could bring about actual, actionable change for the Duty Free industry.
Of the members of the panel, Max Heinemann and Charles Chen appeared to edge it. The latter was the only one to offer unique insights into the Hainan market, which is the titular focus. Heinemann offered interesting comments and thoughts, but then he does have the advantage that, unlike most of his fellow panellists, he has not been appearing at industry conferences for many years. His words were fresh for the audience. But they will need to be followed up with fresh insights and actions in the months and years to come.
Travel Retail is facing numerous challenges and solving any one of them will take frank discussions which address uncomfortable truths and genuinely craft new ideas. This simply cannot all be done in one session. And, honestly, we might have reasonably expected more than the obvious realities of today’s market being reflected back at us.
Is there anything we were told by these five CEOs that most members of the audience could not also have told us?
The five men on screen for the first session of this TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan event represent, in many ways, the very pinnacle of the Travel Retail industry. They are our leading lights – we expect much from them. We fully appreciate the political sensitivities involved in some cases, especially for public company officers. But on Tuesday, unfortunately, we saw very little evidence in the way of either vision or leadership.
We all remain hopeful that there is something special coming around the corner.