By: Phil Peterson

I am constantly reading the various posts from TR Meeting Point on Facebook, as well as the many informative newsletters and blogs from the likes of the Moodie Davitt Report, Travel Markets Insider, DFNI, TR Business, and others, including the excellent www.trunblocked.com, which tends to deal with the complicated issues that some of the other titles like to avoid.  One of the most discussed topics in these past 15+ months is when & where the travel retail industry can hold its next gathering. I have seen many ideas tossed about, with caveats on virtually every location due to some aspect of the pandemic.  As the USA gets back to normal, we will all be looking at the infection numbers in 9/10 days’ time after the record numbers seen at airports over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Most of the concerns are because there is not a unified worldwide plan on how to return to a degree of normalcy.  

A light bulb went off in my head, a couple of weeks ago, after reading the pros & cons of the 2021 TFWA Conference & Exhibition to be held in Cannes, at the end of October.  The biggest issue appears to be how to ensure social distancing and how to control crowds and movement in a city setting, as well as the effects of walking around to attend meetings inside the Palais. People do not want to line up, even if social distancing is respected, outside the Palais to be patted down by a well-dressed security man. I also shudder to think how we will fit in the quaint restaurants in the old part of town and how we will manage breakfast and lunch in the crowded cafes and restaurants opposite the main exhibition area.

Last week as I rested after calling all my clients in the Eastern part of the USA and waiting for the guys in the West Coast to wake up.  I thought “why not have a conference & scaled down trade show on a cruise ship? No doubt there are people in the travel retail “family” (and this truly is a family) directly working with cruise lines or who have connections to the right people within the cruise industry. I do realise that many cruise ships don’t have much exhibition space but there is plenty of room for good networking, one to one meetings and touching the flesh (not literally, of course) with buyers, customers and friends.

The cruise ship could be chartered, with size dependent upon the number of attendees.  Some potential ports could be NY/NJ, Ft Lauderdale, and Miami.  Each is easily accessible from virtually anywhere in the world.  A Florida port would be terrific for cruising to the Caribbean, Bahamas area.  From NY/NJ you could go up the Northeast US coast and visit Boston, Maine, Nova Scotia, but you might be restricted to the northern hemisphere summer to make it work properly.  If there are difficulties with the various local governments concerning cruise ships, the journey could be a “cruise to nowhere”.  And a major stipulation for attending would be that one must be fully vaccinated.

No doubt there are suppliers who would gladly donate/sponsor products for this event.  Exhibitions can be tailored to the size of the facility.  But maybe a networking workshop would be the best idea – it would also be good to see if we could get together safely before we try out for Cannes, the World Cup Final of duty free Trade Exhibitions. 

If people want educational sessions, there is space on most ships to cater for these. Basically, the cruise would allow everyone to get reacquainted in person, instead of talking by Zoom calls.  Most importantly everyone would have decent accommodation transportation, meals, and entertainment.  Imagine that your only worry after a night of debauchery is finding your cabin, and not having to find a taxi or Uber!

I can see suppliers, independent sales agents and duty free industry service providers signing up for this. Will duty free shop operators sign up as well? How can we ensure that the people who make the buying decisions and actually write up the Purchase Order get on the cruise ship with the rest of us? The beauty of the cruise ship model and getting the buyers to attend would be that once they are on the ship, they cannot escape and miss the meetings!

I am sure my ideas are lacking many details but let me know what you think! Personally, I believe the idea itself is a good one, with expenditure well controlled and would be a boost to the cruise industry.  

I know that this idea will appeal to North Americans, given our love affair with the cruise ship industry. But what about my European and Asian friends? Maybe we would want to look at setting up a series of regional events?

As the creator of this idea, I want to thank you all in advance for suggesting that I receive a complimentary cabin (ha-ha).

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