By: Peter Marshall

Many of you know that I have been critical in the past of TFWA. But I do recognise the importance of the work that they do for the industry. And what they are trying to manage for Cannes this year is no simple task. It cannot be easy to have the weight of the industry on your shoulders when it comes to physically regrouping a scattered industry, whose own financial condition is extremely precarious.

Their mission is simple enough: to keep faith with the business and lay the foundations to kick start the business as the world slowly returns to some degree of normality. Travel Retail should survive and thrive and Cannes should be the right platform for that.

And survive to thrive may even apply to the TFWA organisation itself. Their finances, like others, have taken a major hit during 2020 and for most of 2021. Based on the information I now have, they are prepared for Cannes 2021 to make a loss. This should not happen at all and it’s the responsibility of the industry as a whole to make sure that TFWA continues to perform its valuable function.

Yes, I still believe that the organisation’s structure needs a fundamental overhaul, but what is important right now is to ensure that it remains intact and can move forward.

We all know that there are three industry events in the next two months. Each have their own agenda and each is directly competitive in some way, however you judge it. Money-scarce travel retailers and brands are asked to divide their scaled-down budgets and team members across a physical only (TRB), a digital only (Moodie Davitt ) and a full week of integrated physical and digital (TFWA) events. The likely result looks like none will have the full audience or income they would wish for. Arguably a better result would have been for collaboration between the parties. But history, market position, corporate policy and egos often appear to get in the way.

The net result?  The industry as a whole will not necessarily benefit from the fact that many execs are so thinly spread and that key dialogues that need to take place, won’t. Like how Travel Retail should look in a post-COVID world, brand sensitivities, the need for digital acceleration, an airport MAG-less future. The list is endless – well, almost.

Back to Cannes and it is quite clear from various sources that many industry leaders and their multinational companies are still sitting on their hands and have yet to confirm their attendance for the event. Some of the understandable woolly responses from the latest press briefing are testament to that. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Many brands won’t commit if they feel there is no adequate representation from major retailers (this is especially true for the lesser brands) and/or the quality of the retail team sent,and many retailers will not consider it worthwhile if the major brands are not there. Overlay potential issues with the French sanitary certificate for non-French nationals and the deeper worry of how quickly COVID’s Delta variant is spreading in Europe, there are many easy reasons to justify non-attendance. 

But, and this is an important but, now is surely the one time to show good faith and take the high ground. TFWA are a mainstay of the business and should be supported. Companies should not be run by bean counters at this point. However much pain the industry is going through, retailers and brands alike should still uphold some presence at the show. It may not seem a commercial imperative at this point in time – ”let’s wait until next year”’ is too easy a response. But the fact is that presence at this year’s event may well guarantee its continuity.

So, make the investment, attend in some way, however small. Without wishing to be over-dramatic, failure to attend may well have serious repercussions for TFWA.

In summary, brands and retailers should take some responsibility and find some shekels to support Cannes this year. However large or small a delegation, just attend. Reigniting the industry is a worthy aim and Cannes can fulfil that, even in truncated form.

Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
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