FOREWORD by: Peter Marshall, Founder: www.trunblocked.com
We all recognise how difficult it must be for TFWA right now. Although we have some glimmering hope of a better future in the coming months, the association has still made the call to run the biggest annual industry event in Cannes in October.
But there are an awful lot of questions that remain unanswered. Of course Covid-19 had made any kind of planning a nightmare, and this decision runs the risk of being overturned at any time because it is subject to the vagaries of the pandemic. And October is when the next spike is being predicted.
Since my blog last week on www.trunblocked.com, I have received many calls and even more emails from industry colleagues expressing their real concern. One senior executive was so worried that he approached me to write this blog under a nom de plume. I thought it important and relevant to feature it because it does represent many views expressed by the business community.
And TFWA need to respond. Of course they recognise their duty of care, but they need to be wholly transparent now as to what precisely the conditions and safeguards will be. What will define this year’s Cannes. How ‘lite’ will ‘Cannes Lite’ be?
I have invited TFWA to conduct a full and frank interview and hope to hear shortly. There are so many questions, many of which will focus on insurance, liability, affordability and flexibility. I will keep you posted as to developments.
In the meantime, if you want to comment publicly on this post, please do so. Or message me on Linkedin or to my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
For The Trade, By The Trade? Are You Serious?
By: Mick McManus
With last week’s announcement of a change of dates for the TFWA Exhibition and Conference in Cannes, many suppliers and industry players are asking who really controls the TFWA. Are decisions being taken solely by the permanent Paris-based staff or along with the volunteer management committee? Have the 520 plus members been asked what they really think and what they really want, this year?
Some people in the Association are pushing ahead to have an in-person exhibition this year, come what may. But exactly who – suppliers, operators or TFWA staff? A few operators and many suppliers are asking this very loaded question. A New York based accessory supplier said to me yesterday: “We all want to meet up and say hello to our friends and our business partners. Some of us want to party, but the majority simply want to talk to buyers. But with so many uncertainties regarding the virus and how well the vaccinations work, there are quite a number of us who are very unsure about the need for a big meeting this year. Many travel retail sales managers are being forced to listen to their HR managers when they say that the company’s insurance policies will not cover them for travel to an exhibition.”
Another friend said: “OK, I am totally fed up with Zoom, but I am also worried about rushing into face-to-face meetings when we really don’t know what the future holds. Will the TFWA guarantee that we will be safe in Cannes? Will they guarantee that we will be safe in the Palais? All the doctors I talk to say everywhere must be well ventilated. My current stand is in the basement of the Palais, which is the worst ventilated place in the world. I really don’t care if they take my temperature when I go into the Palais, but I really want a Doctor to tell me that it is safe to be there and mix with people from different countries, who may have been exposed to strange mutations of the virus. I want someone who really understands how viruses work to tell me that the basement of the Palais is a safe place to be for a week.”
Clearly some guys in the Association are urging caution. A colleague who only said interesting things when I promised not to reveal his name, said that all social activities will be severely curtailed. He also claims that there will be no cocktail party and no gala dinner and that The Scene will not operate this year. No speakers have been announced for the Conference and this may have been cancelled already but will not be announced until just before the event. Strikingly, he claims that this has not been announced because even the guys at the TFWA do not know what will be allowed.
But what about normal life in Cannes? Are there any rules on hotel occupation? In Mexico, most resort hotels are limited to 50% total occupation, rising to 70% if the hotels pass a special sanitary audit. What is the story in Cannes and the south of France? We would also imagine that the TFWA will be lobbying the hotels to ensure that prices are held to sensible levels, at least for this year. What are the rules for eating in restaurants in town? Clearly there will be no team dinners but has anyone clarified how many of us can eat together? Are tables spaced out on the pavement and/or inside? There will be no concerts in Morrison’s Irish Pub but can I get a pint of Guinness? So many uncertainties make many of us nervous and the possible lack of Guinness makes me very sad!
The industry needs to tread very carefully indeed
A more pragmatic duty-free veteran said to me by e-mail yesterday, “I think that it’s the permanent executives at TFWA headquarters who are pushing for this. They almost certainly have serious cash flow problems with the last three in-person exhibitions cancelled and they desperately need money to be able to meet fixed costs in November and December. OK, life might be tough for them right now, but what is worse is that we still haven’t been paid for some goods shipped pre-pandemic, and this is from one of the biggest travel retail operators in the world. My company hasn’t made a sale in duty free for 18 months and right now we have no marketing budget for the channel. We probably could cut costs and get on EasyJet and fly to Nice and stay in an Air Bnb, out of town. If we don’t put up our normal stand, we may lose our place on the exhibition floor and maybe rejoin the queue to exhibit again. At the end of the day, I am glad that it will be our shareholders who decide if we go or not.”
The much-vaunted Buyer’s programme is supported by most suppliers but one perfumes supplier complains: “In many cases we still do not know which buyers are still in place. Some were furloughed but others were sent home for good. Some of the big operators have been very shy about who is still in place. In many cases we only find out when we send an email and it bounces back to us. We are really pleased that they are doing something for the buyers but will they be allowed to buy and place orders? All the buyers say that they are overstocked and that they are only placing orders for the top 2 or three brands. We are brand number 5 in our category, so it seems that we will have to wait – our dynamic growth has been curtailed and buyers are taking even less risks than before.”
On a more pessimistic tone he says, “If we go and any of my team catch the virus, my job will be on the line. The good thing is they are all vaccinated and are good to go – they all want to go but HR may block the whole thing. Our South American colleagues are in an even more difficult position. At the moment all of them will have to quarantine for 14 days before working in Europe – this of course may change. But they are actually more worried that, even though some of them are vaccinated, they still may not be allowed to travel. There are rumours that those vaccinated with the Russian and Chinese vaccines prevalent throughout South America will be treated as not vaccinated, given that these vaccines have still to be approved by the European authorities.’
My friends are by no means representative of the travel retail universe but they are all saying the same thing that is in the mindset of many. The big message I got this week on the phone was why have a halfhearted attempt at an exhibition when we could wait a few months and do a truly world-wide exhibition in a city that is safe for all and can offer fuller guarantees than Cannes may be able to do at the moment? Should the TFWA be sitting down and talking (by Zoom, of course) to IAADFS, Asutil and whoever is representing the big players in China?
Or are they solely interested in beefing up their exceptionally low cash reserves?