For years, Asia Pacific has been the epicentre of travel retail. It has led trends and innovation and been home to our global market’s highest-spending and most sought-after shoppers.
The pandemic has changed the world and the status quo is being rewritten all around us. Right now, large parts of Asia Pacific are cut off from the international community and those that are open are lagging behind their Western colleagues in creating a free and easy travel market. Despite this, Asia Pacific remains the focus of much – or most – discussion. It is home to Hainan, which has been the “leading light” for travel retail and China Duty Free Group has been ranked as the world’s Number 1 travel retailer.
In a few days, the eyes of travel retail will all be firmly on Asia Pacific as the TFWA Singapore event returns. But with everything going on, maybe we should ask: Is Asia Pacific still setting the pace for travel retail?
There is a world beyond China. If nothing else, the past two years has shown that we desperately need an industry model which does not rely almost entirely on Chinese shoppers.
Hainan was ground-breaking when all other travel was impossible. But that is no longer the case; other internal travel markets have been doing business and creating travel retail opportunities for months and big international markets such as the US and Europe are open for business. This has loosened China’s grip on the headlines and travel retail recovery is only just beginning to pick up pace.
This is something the travel retail sector as a whole should consider: There is a world beyond China. If nothing else, the past two years has shown that we desperately need an industry model which does not rely almost entirely on Chinese shoppers.
Retailers around the world, not just in duty free, are being told that customers are bored of hearing about Covid as an excuse for poor service and supply. Our industry should be tired of hearing about the lack of Chinese shoppers as an excuse for anything. We have to evolve.
None of this is to say that Asia and China will not remain important parts of our conversations and plans. The region is still a leader in digital innovation and a leading light for how to engage shoppers. Hainan is also a real ‘Wild West’ melting pot for travel retail which throws out exciting new ideas. And young Chinese shoppers will be a force in our industry’s future.
But Asia Pacific is not about to rise again and reset the world for travel retail and all its stakeholders. The Chinese government wants to keep more spend, particularly luxury spend, in the country, borders are not open yet and years of zero Covid policies may make international destinations less appealing to some travellers in the region.
As the eyes of the travel retail world turn to Asia Pacific this month, it is more important than ever that we recognise that this vibrant region is a part of the world – it is not the whole world.