What we should be talking about in Cannes this year

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By Marco Passoni

Cannes is upon us once more and the travel retail industry will arrive on the French Riviera next week for the annual TFWA World Exhibition & Conference. I do not even want to count how many times I have attended Cannes since my first time in 1992, but there are a few things which feature every year: Glasses of Champagne, meetings in Café Roma, busy meeting schedules, cups of espresso – and conversations about ideas to change to the industry which will never happen.

The truth is that, for years, we have heard the same discussions at Cannes. But our market is changing. It is changing fast, and it is doing so around us, driven by hyper-connected shoppers and an evolving retail landscape. This year words will not be enough – we need actions too.

This year words will not be enough – we need actions too

This is especially true for those who take to the stage during the conference. If you have a platform, then make sure you have something worthwhile to say: Share actionable insights or showcase genuine innovation. Do not just recite press releases, we can read them in the media.

Here, in my opinion, are the topics where our industry needs to find solutions and take action.

  1. Partnership

We have heard the phrase “break down the silos” so many times in Cannes. It is a cheap cliché now. We all like the idea of a world where we share data and insights freely to the benefit of all. It would probably work too. But no one is willing to take the step and be first. So, we must be realistic; we must talk about what we can do. This year has seen some exciting new joint ventures showcase what can be achieved if retailers and landlords get on the same page with a business model that benefits and protects both. We need more of these ideas – and insights into how they work. We also need brands and retailers to discuss the scope of possible true collaboration to create unique experiences and enhance the shopper’s journey. Finally, brands must also talk to other brands about collaborating. This is a market where uniqueness and creativity will be the difference between success and failure.

  1. Differentiation: Price & Novelty

We must face up to what sets our market apart. Some of us may not like it but price is at the heart of our offer, and we cannot shy away from that anymore. Shoppers want to see a price benefit in our stores, or they will lose interest and shop online. But how we keeping these shoppers engaged must also be on the table: Travel retail has a unique opportunity to bring together brands which are never seen side-by-side elsewhere. By truly putting them together in dedicated collaborations, we can create an offer which stands out for our customers.

  1. A world without China at its centre

For a long time, China was the key talking point in our market. Pre-pandemic, Chinese shoppers drove spend in many locations, and during the lockdowns Hainan was the shining light for our industry. But China’s borders remain rather closed, and the travel retail market is recovering nevertheless. We must learn to cater to the shoppers we have and build a successful future without relying only on China. There are exciting new markets and opportunities out there – India, Vietnam etc – it is time to talk about how we serve those consumers.

  1. Sustainability

True sustainability needs to be on everyone’s lists and lips this year. Patagonia’s recent announcement has changed the game, both in what shoppers expect and what we should demand from ourselves. I suspect many companies will have sustainability at the top of their list of topics for this event, but now we must all ask ourselves: Are we really doing all we can? Our sustainability strategies must be deep-rooted and supported at a corporate level. The time for lip-service and passing on the cost has gone.

  1. Digital

Of course we have to talk about digital. It is changing our market and it is doing so very fast. The metaverse has stepped into Fashion Week, Instagram is reassessing its ecommerce functions and Chinese mobile retail giant Pinduoduo is eyeing a US expansion. The big players here are moving fast and everyone else needs to be doing the same. As the digital landscape continues to shift, we must ask ourselves: What is travel retail’s place in it? And, more importantly, how do we carve that space out?

I remain hopeful that this year, Cannes will provide more answers than soundbites. The industry has truly begun to bounce back from the challenges of the last two years, let this year’s TFWA World Exhibition be a catalyst for greatness.

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.