Are there too many travel retail shows?

By Marco Passoni

Next week, the travel retail industry will land in Bahrain for MEADFA. This coming together in the Middle East puts a sensible spotlight on the region just as the World Cup turns the attention of the world to nearby Qatar.

But this will also be the second time travel retail stakeholders have met en masse in a month, following the excellent Trinity Forum in Singapore last month. That event also came just weeks after our industry’s biggest annual gathering in Cannes for the TFWA World Exhibition.

If you look at it, that is flights to Cannes, Singapore and Bahrain for many people across the industry in less than six weeks – just for industry events.

The truth is that the calendar has become very busy and it is only getting more so. There are an ever increasing number of events, sometimes in the guise of being focused on different facets or regions of the travel retail market. While the pandemic brought about an influx of online events and webinars, many of them seem to be making the transition to in-person events. Next year will see the return of Asutil in association with TFWA, so the calendar is getting increasingly crowded once more. Once you add in all the numerous regional events it becomes even more so.

The truth is that the calendar has become very busy and it is only getting more so.

We are an industry that relies on travel and we can all agree that meeting in person is infinitely more beneficial than the somewhat soulless digital alternative. It may even seem churlish to some for someone whose business relies on travel to question the need for multiple international trips.

But the issue at hand is more than that: Do we need all these shows?

Of course these events are good for raising the profile of those featured, and they will be important revenue streams for many, but are they each serving a purpose? Or are industry members paying to travel round the world and hear the same conversations over and over again?

Maybe it is time to take a look at that collaboration we all speak so much about and ask why our industry organisations are not banding together to host single spectacular, one-off events. It would be something that people would be desperate to speak at and attend, which would drive the quality of presentation and information on show. That creates value for everyone involved.

As I have mentioned in the past, too often the stages at these events have been taken up by people repeating the same points over and over again – or those simply speaking about how great their company is. None of this is useful and none of it is worth multiple trips around the world – especially at a time when more and more companies are considering their financials. What is more, some in the industry do not have an army of assistants working for them; every show is time away from the office and work left undone.

Is each event serving a purpose? Or are industry members paying to travel round the world and hear the same conversations over and over again?

The time has come for everyone – attendees and organisers alike – to ask themselves for each show: What is this providing for the industry? Is there true value specific to the topics being advertised? Are delegates getting what they are paying for?

The answer, in some cases, is probably not. And as purse strings are tightened, that could be bad news for some industry events.

We all talk a lot about how much we need to deliver on the expectations of our customers. That is true in a business to business sense as much as a consumer-facing one.

Do our industry events deliver the experience and value to attendees that we expect our services to deliver for travellers? If not, then maybe it’s time to ask again whether we need all of them.

Marco Passoni has decades of experience in the travel retail sector. He has spent the majority of his career in senior leader positions throughout the market, including a 12-year tenure as CEO of a leading international Duty Free distribution company and a further 8 years running a retail firm that operated fashion mono-brand stores in several international airports.
Today, as Senior Executive VP and founding partner of 2.0 & Partners, he leads the company’s efforts in developing and innovating services which create new opportunities and partnerships for all members of the travel retail Trinity. A former elite-level sailor, with a World Championship to his name, Marco now spends much of his time airside, experiencing the changing travel retail industry first-hand, to better guide partners and clients on the best way to do business in this vibrant and unique market.