Peter Marshall (PM):  Aude, thank you for coming along to this interview. The industry knows very well how difficult a decision it must have been for TFWA to run with Cannes 2021. Everyone wants the event to happen, but is this realistic? Planning against the vagaries of a pandemic is almost impossible. So far, TFWA has been very lean on supplying the information required for businesses to be sufficiently reassured that it is safe to attend. TFWA has a clear duty of care. So can you briefly, and specifically, explain what all attendees can expect and what measures the Cannes municipality are putting in place. 

Aude Bourdier (AB): Thank you, Peter. As you rightly say, it is very difficult to plan against a pandemic we do not have any control over. However, isn’t it our duty as the representative Association of the brands in global travel retail to prepare for the return of business? Cancelling an event takes five minutes, it is easy to do. But planning and preparing such a large scale event takes considerable effort and time, as you can imagine. It is our mandate to do our best to make it happen. So we are working tirelessly, and, given the uncertainties still prevailing, I can assure you it is a massive amount of work for the permanent staff of the Association, and a lot of extra time has been dedicated to this by the Board and Management Committee. 

Regarding the safety measures in Cannes, we are working closely with the city of Cannes to provide attendees with the best possible TFWA World Exhibition & Conference we can, with the health and safety of all guests being our number one priority. As a centre for global conferences and business, Cannes is keen to host major international events, of which our exhibition is one of many, throughout the year and is taking the situation extremely seriously. Extensive safety protocols are now in place at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, while taxis and hotels in Cannes are also subject to strict hygiene measures. The Palais des Festivals is similarly well-equipped to handle new requirements for large-scale events, so we have every confidence that the municipality is safe and business ready for TFWA World Exhibition & Conference.

  • The Palais des Festivals stages many major international conferences and exhibitions every year, and is well placed to handle new hygiene and safety requirements
  • The Palais has passed a rigorous 100-point check and received certification from SOCOTEC, a global leader in testing and inspection. It is also the first conference centre in France to receive GBAC STAR accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council
  • Cannes is one of the cities in France with the highest vaccination rate, and growing (as elsewhere in France)
  • New measures in place at the Palais include regular deep cleaning and disinfection routines, and ventilation that uses fresh water instead of recycled air.
  • The Palais is also putting in place a new medical conciergerie that will provide rapid response assistance for anyone feeling unwell
  • TFWA will adapt TFWA World Exhibition & Conference to accommodate these new hygiene rules and regulations to ensure the safety of all attendees

In summary, we absolutely believe that the TFWA World Exhibition & Conference is viable and necessary. We have a duty to our members, our exhibitors and the wider industry to make the event happen. It is important that we bring our industry back together again at this critical time, to help share the experience and knowledge that will aid us on the road to recovery. We are, however, constantly monitoring the situation.

PM:  What about the stand configuration inside the main Palais and other locations? It’s a case of chicken and egg, isn’t it? You can’t really advise the layout until you know who has signed up. Or can you? 

AB:  Yes, the configuration inside the Palais is likely to be the same. It makes sense for brands to be using the same space, using the same stand as in the past for obvious cost reasons and ease of implementation in a shorter time than previous years.

PM: Moving on, what can you say about the costs for the exhibition stands themselves? Given the battering the industry has endured these past 15 months, offering 2019 prices is barely realistic. How much lower can you go? And if you are not prepared to lower your rates, why not?

AB: Of course, we want to make TFWA World Exhibition & Conference as affordable as possible for delegates, and there certainly will be changes to the programme to make the networking more appropriate to the current circumstances. We are always mindful of how we deliver the best value for money for our members, but at the same time, it’s essential that we deliver an event that doesn’t compromise on quality.

The 2021 cost price for exhibiting stands was intensely debated by the TFWA Management Committee (representing 36 brands) in full transparency. Given that the larger cost for brands is not the square metre cost, giving a rebate was not considered significant enough. And instead, we chose the route to support our industry partners through our new Hosted Buyer Programme, which will offer practical support and financial assistance to help meet accommodation costs for many of our retail partners attending this year’s event.

However, the Management Committee has agreed that if TFWA is able to stage a successful World Exhibition in 2021, any benefits will be given back to all exhibitors as a rebate on their stand fee after the event.

PM: What exactly do you mean by ‘benefits’?

AB:  We mean profits. So any profits made by the association, if any, will be given back to all exhibitors as a rebate on their stand fee after the Cannes event.

PM: Hotels are another big cost factor. TFWA largely controls the allocation. Can you use your influence to get measurable discounts this year? After all, the exhibition move to a slot right at the end of the season merits asking the question?

AB: This is indeed something we always do, and as in previous years, we are working hard with the city of Cannes and hotel providers to deliver the best possible value to delegates. As ever, we will continue to work to secure discounts for members and attendees where it is possible to do so. And indeed, the new dates in October being more off season than September will allow more flexibility from the hotel sector in their rates. Donatienne de Fontaines-Guillaume (TFWA VP Commercial) and John Rimmer (TFWA Managing Director) both went personally to Cannes recently to meet with the Mayor’s office, with the Palais and with various hospitality groups.

PM: What about the bars and restaurants? How many are likely to be open and how do you envisage the seat planning in this respect, or indeed for any meetings held in hotels or in the Palais. How will this be policed?

AB: The opening of the hotels, bars and restaurants is, of course, not within our remit, but, as things return to normal across France, we are as confident as we can be that Cannes will once again offer the great hospitality we’ve all missed over the past year, even if that is in a somewhat different form. As for arrangements in the Palais, we will be adhering to the laws in the city of Cannes, whatever they might be at the time, and will be making as many facilities available as possible, so long as it is safe to do so within guidelines. 

PM: Coming back to cost. Everyone is expecting a Cannes ‘Lite’, with the opening cocktail, Monday conference, gala dinner and The Scene to be scrubbed. Don’t these savings justify a significant reduction in attendees costs? The motto for TFWA is ‘By the trade, for the trade’. Surely this is the year when that motto needs to be lived up to?

AB: The TFWA motto “By the trade, for the trade” has never been truer and that is why we are working relentlessly to make it happen in the first place. This year’s social networking programme will maintain the quality of previous years but the tone of these events will of course be different. We will focus on simpler networking events and are working on these as we speak, so please stay tuned.

PM: Can you be a little more specific? Looking at the social networking situation, of course it has to be a movable feast. But don’t you think the business community has a right to know what they are buying into? 

AB: Of course, but our primary mission is to provide the world class event everyone wants to be at again – back to business. On the social events, we can already confirm that there will be no gala dinner. It did not seem right to us the right thing to do in this very special year. We are working as we speak on a programme that will allow participants to meet and network, safely of course, and it will inevitably be different in tone. Less glitter, simple, but offering the same great business and networking opportunities.

‘’Our primary mission is to provide the world class event everyone wants to be at again – back to business’’ – Aude Bourdier, TFWA, VP Marketing

PM: Are you prepared to be transparent and show the costs of the event that are involved?

AB: The costs of the event are reviewed on a monthly basis by the Finance Sub-committee and approved by the TFWA Management Committee, namely the 36 elected members who represent TFWA’s wider membership. Our accounts are also available to all our members and presented at the AGM. 

PM: If there is another spike in Covid cases – and another wave is predicted for October – do you have a force majeure to get your deposit back? And will that apply to all attendees, too?

AB: Yes, our policy is to refund all stand deposits, should we be forced to cancel the event due to Covid restrictions.

PM: Linked to this question, have you looked into your insurance and liability exposure in case there are cases arising from the show? This would apply to all delegates as well as TFWA staff.

AB: We will follow strict protocols as advised by the French government for events. As mentioned, we are in close contact with local authorities in Cannes and are working with them to ensure robust health and safety measures are in place at

TFWA World Exhibition & Conference. Of course, we want all attendees to have a safe and enjoyable experience, and we will adapt the format of the conference, workshops, exhibition and social events programme to achieve this. Be assured, we are constantly reviewing the situation and will make decisions based on the information we receive.

PM: There are a number of HR Directors from some of the larger companies who are giving clear signals that their advice to their respective boards is that Cannes 2021 is not viable for attendance. What can you meaningfully say now to reassure them that it is still worth going? 

AB: The feedback we have received from our member survey and from retailers shows there is much pent-up demand from the travel industry to meet again in person, and an overwhelming desire to come together again in Cannes. Our industry is built on a strong foundation of close business relationships. So, it’s important that we have the opportunity to nurture those relationships and meet again as one industry to tackle the challenges that lay ahead of us. 

People really do want to come. There is no other event like it within duty free and travel retail.

PM: You really didn’t answer my question here on what to say to the HR Directors.

AB: Well, all our companies are looking at a situation that is constantly changing. Of course, safety is paramount and no one wants to travel if it is not safe. I responded previously on all the health conditions put in place, the vaccination in France and in Cannes etc. The situation is changing by the week and by October, if the current trend of vaccination continues, we are confident at that stage it will be safe to travel. But anything can happen – indeed we learned that the past year. 

PM: Are all board members and management committee and staff willing and able to attend? If you are instructed by your company board not to attend, what would you do?

AB: Yes, all Board members, staff and the vast majority of the Management Committee are planning to attend. This constituted the very base of our willingness to work on the event in the first place. While the past year has certainly taught us to be very humble in any predictions about the future, again, we are constantly adapting and reviewing the ever-changing situation.

PM: ‘Adapt’ is certainly the right word to use. But lead times are against you and the many brands who may have stand builds and logistics to consider. When will TFWA make a final decision on whether Cannes 2021 is a no go?You really need to answer this question. You are asking for a lot of faith from the business community.

AB: Currently it’s a go. All indicators from the French government on events, with many more attendees than ours, are going on. We can learn from these large events, planned in July onwards, in both Paris and Cannes. Moreover, the stands are very much likely to be the same in most cases, so not a new investment for brands and less lead times to build. The only reason we would need to cancel the event would be for health reasons from the French government – which we do not control and which indeed could be last minute. But all lights are green now and, again, it is our mandate to do our best to make it happen.

‘‘All lights are green now and, again, it is our mandate to do our best to make it happen’’ – Aude Bourdier, TFWA, VP Marketing

PM: If, for whichever reason, Cannes 2021 is cancelled, do you have a virtual back-up in TFWA 365? If this is the case, what form will it take? Is the Hainan Special Event the benchmark? 

AB: We remain committed to hosting a physical event in Cannes this year. However, no matter what the circumstances may be, duty free and travel retail professionals can rest assured that TFWA will provide a platform for them to network, share ideas and conduct vital business. Our new TFWA 365 online platform is not designed as a replacement for Cannes, but as a permanent added service to our members and the wider industry, offering extra support during our conferences and events as well providing additional services to our members throughout the year. 

PM: A number of people are asking the obvious question. Why doesn’t TFWA join with Moodie Davitt this year and create arguably a bigger and more successful Virtual Expo? Has TFWA even spoken to them. Martin Moodie has said publicly that he is open to collaboration. It might well pay dividends for both parties. 

AB: As an industry we are fortunate to have a varied and vibrant trade media, and we very much value our relationship and contacts with all the various publications. A successful Cannes show is in the interests of everyone, including the trade press. For us at TFWA, our core capabilities are clear. We are the vital hub of the industry where “buyers and sellers” meet physically or virtually or digitally – or a combination of all – to do business and, given the present times, to restart business and accelerate momentum.

PM: What is the cut off point for you to finalise the decision to pull out or not?

AB: As of now, events and exhibitions are allowed to resume by the French government. As I said, there are a number of large events already announced to take place in Paris and Cannes, such as the Film Festival in July, Vivatech and Maison & Objet in Paris, and so on. Again, it is our duty and mandate to do all we can to make our event happen, but we will obviously be keeping a close watch on the broader situation as it develops.

PM: TFWA has suffered as much as any trading business over this period. Can the association survive financially if Cannes does not go ahead?

AB: Yes, thanks to the very prudent financial management of the Association in the past 20 years, the TFWA is in a solid position financially.

PM: Finally, Aude, if there was one thing you wanted to say to the industry now, what would it be?

AB: Time and time again, the duty free and travel retail industry has demonstrated its resilience in the face of global challenges. Let’s also not forget that, before the current crisis, the long-term trajectory of the business was rising upwards at a record pace. We see no reason why this upward trajectory won’t resume in the medium to long term. Now is the time to show our collective strength, get out there, and get business done. We are sincerely grateful for the support of our members and the wider industry who trust us to do all we can to put on a live event once again, and rest assured that we are working hard to make it happen.

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