MEADFA 2022: Time for travel retail to decide what it believes in

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By Marco Passoni

As the FIFA World Cup continues to throw a huge spotlight on the Middle East region, the travel retail industry will land there too this week for the MEADFA Conference.

But while football is battling to dominate headlines at the World Cup, the MEADFA Conference has been created as a stage for large-scale debate about the ideals and approaches which will shape our sector. I have written recently about the desperate need for travel retail to ensure that every show is worth its weight and time to stakeholders, and this week’s MEAFA event is a perfect example.

Travel retail has an enormous opportunity in the Middle East and Africa today. New luxury hubs and spectacular stores have opened across the region, bringing to life the ideals of experience and excitement which are hallmarks of our sector. In fact, this market has become more important than ever, with other big-spending travellers such as the Chinese and Russian out of the market, shoppers from the Middle East have become both a key opportunity and a vital driver of recovery in our business. Add to that the incredible potential waiting to be unlocked in Africa, and the power of hub airports such as Dubai and Qatar and you have a location which deserves everyone’s attention.

But attention will not change the game – or shape a successful future. We need instructive discussion on key topics, and here are the ones I believe need investigating.

A focus on luxury

There can be no doubt that luxury has become a major part of the travel retail market in recent years – even more so in the wake of the pandemic. As shoppers look for experience and an opportunity to treat themselves, luxury brands are delivering in a big way. The Middle East has showcased how to make the most of this, with the recent openings in Qatar just one example of how to deliver luxury in a TR setting.

The Middle Eastern traveller

We have all, I hope, now learned that we cannot treat all travellers the same. Every shopper demographic – and every shopper – needs a tailored approach from opening engagement to final sale and beyond. With shoppers from the MEA region becoming vital shoppers – and poised to increase their influence in coming years – there has never been a more important time to fully understand their needs and demands.

Digital X Sustainability

We all know that digital is vital to our future. We all know that sustainability is vital to our future. But how many of us are thinking about them in tandem? To truly deliver on shopper expectations we have to make sure digital and sustainability are fully ingrained in our plans and processes. But the waste generated by online returns is one example of a gap in promises and delivery by the retail market. We must do better.

Creating new spaces

We heard talk at the recent TFWA World Exhibition about the importance – and potential – of building unique spaces in travel retail. This is something I passionately believe the industry must take very seriously. The Middle East has created some spectacular new spaces and stores in recent years, giving brands the chance to deliver bespoke and memorable experiences, let us learn from that example.

The business model

In the Middle East, the close working relationships between owners and retailers create a unique business ecosystem where innovation and newness can flourish. As discussion about overhauling the industry model and creating closer working relationships grows, this is a region we can all learn something from.

I hope this week’s event in the Kingdom of Bahrain will be an enjoyable and profitable one for all involved, and here is hoping for in-depth insights and actionable takeaways for all in attendance.

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.