Where has the excitement gone in travel retail?

By Marco Passoni

This year marks three decades since I first attended the TFWA Exhibition in Cannes. This event, which kicks off again this week, is the biggest showcase of our industry. Almost every year people come from around the world to showcase new products, new ideas and their latest highlights.

Over the years I have noticed one thing: It is all getting very complacent.

Let us be honest, is Cannes a hive of innovation and excitement during the TFWA event? How often have you heard the same discussions? From data-sharing and collaboration to digital innovation and standing apart from the high street, we have heard it all before. Sometimes this repetition without action gets called out. But nothing changes; we still get people offering soundbites not solutions and no one is willing to be the one who breaks the mould.

Brands are not innocent in this either. All too often, the ‘exciting new product’ is simply an update on last year’s release or a fresh label on an existing item. Cannes is an unparalleled opportunity to talk, listen, inspire and innovate, but we don’t.

Cannes is an unparalleled opportunity to talk, listen, inspire and innovate, but we don’t.

The reason for this is simple. This is not the fault of the TFWA or the Cannes event, it is symbolic of the wider industry. For many years the travel retail and duty free sectors have been very static in places. We relied on high-spending Chinese shoppers and growing passenger numbers to hide falling footfall and penetration with profits that did not reflect performance.

Then the pandemic came and forced us all to take a step back and think. We had to take a new approach. We had to collaborate within the Trinity to survive. This approach inspired newness; we talked at length of changing shoppers in the “new normal”, we idealised about new types of store, ground-breaking digital engagement and a whole new approach.

Too many old ideas are resurfacing in new coats. The amount of real innovation and difference is limited.

And where has this talk got us? Not far at the moment. Many of the shops, even those which are opening anew, look the same as they did before. Too many old ideas are resurfacing in new coats. The amount of real innovation and difference is limited. For example, the metaverse is often held high as an example of doing something new, but the Metaverse is going to happen anyway, getting on board is just keeping up. Asking how we give travel retail a unique place in the Metaverse – that would be an interesting discussion.

This year is the first full return of the TFWA World Exhibition to Cannes since the pandemic. This year we are seeing more exhibitors, more global guests, more events and more talk than we have in a long time. This, then, is a key test for our industry. This is the moment we see if there is more than talk on offer.

This is the moment where we prove there is more than talk on offer.

This year in Cannes, be inspiring, say something new, follow through on your promises – or just listen, learn and discuss. Our future is being built right here and we cannot afford for it to be anything less than exceptional.

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.