Retail Focus recently caught up with Jaya Singh, TFWA President to discuss his election as president, bringing the industry together and retail trends following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jaya Singh, TFWA President

You have recently been elected as president of the TFWA – how does that feel?


It is a huge privilege to serve as TFWA President, but I also feel an enormous sense of responsibility. This is because we, as an industry, are navigating a situation we have never encountered before. Doing this successfully requires a joined-up approach if we are to rebuild for the future and emerge stronger together. Working collaboratively, as a team, is, as far as I’m concerned, an absolute pre-requisite as we chart our way forwards in times of such unprecedented volatility.

TFWA has a very solid team of board members, management committee and permanent staff. This is fundamental to the strength of the association, and, I feel very emphatically, our mainstay and key asset. The level of work and engagement from these people has been very high during this period, and I would like to thank them all for their unwavering commitment. 

At TFWA, we’re planning for a vast spectrum of scenarios at a very detailed level. We are constantly discussing, re-shaping, fine tuning and looking at all manner of challenges and opportunities with a large number of diverse stakeholders on a daily basis so that we are prepared for any eventuality. Communicating and then communicating again and again is critical. 

It’s an interesting time for retail, could you explain what TFWA offers its members and the wider retail community?

Our motto at TFWA has always been ‘by the trade, for the trade’. Everything we do is designed to provide duty free and travel retail businesses with the means to prosper and grow. Our Board and Management Committee have been meeting frequently to devise new ways to support our industry during these unprecedented times. This has led to the development of new tools such as our TFWA 365 online platform, which will provide year-round support and exclusive digital services to our members to help them meet and overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic. 

We have also adapted our events in order to help our industry partners stay connected at a time when opportunities to meet have been severely limited. Our TFWA China Reborn online event held last December offered a series of webinars with leading travel retailers and industry experts, helping delegates to grow their understanding of the latest market developments in China and beyond. We are expanding on this with our upcoming TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition digital event, where attendees will be able to hear from some of biggest names in our industry and network with colleagues in a completely virtual environment.   

Retail has changed dramatically, the high street is a big example of this. However, until the pandemic, travel retail was an area which had seen positive growth. Where was travel retail getting it right?

There are a number of factors behind this. For one, travel retailers are able to consistently deliver experiences that can’t be replicated on the high street, providing memorable moments that stay with travelling customers long after they’ve completed their journey. Many brands also offer exclusive products that can only be purchased from duty free and travel retail stores, helping to make these destinations for customers looking for unique, one-off items. Personal service is another area that travel retailers and brands invest heavily in, adding another element that enhances the customer’s overall experience.  

Will the pandemic change retailers’ thinking? How will the sector evolve?

With limited options to travel, we have seen a clear shift in shopper trends towards online duty free sales and e-commerce. Many people are now actively searching for and buying their favourite duty free goods online. Savvy travel retailers have been updating their e-commerce capabilities to meet this growing trend, from offering more user-friendly options for online payments to hosting virtual events to support and reward their customers. 

However, there remains a huge desire among travelling shoppers to physically visit bricks and mortar stores for the high quality service and experiences they offer. For example, the island of Hainan has remained open to domestic travellers during much of the pandemic, and has seen a boom in the number of duty free shoppers visiting the region. As a result of the recent incredible growth in offline and online sales, Hainan province now plans to grow its offshore duty free sector to around RMB60 billion (US$9.3 billion) in 2021, an increase of more than 80% on last year. 

The most successful travel retailers moving forward will be the ones that offer a well-balanced blend of online functionality and new digital capabilities, along with a physical store presence offering excellent customer service and product ranges that combine global bestsellers with much sought-after exclusive goods.    

TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition takes place as a virtual event from 21-24 June. How will this be different from your physical events and how do we register to attend?

TFWA Asia Pacific Hainan Special Edition will offer the same valuable insight and numerous opportunities for the duty free and travel retail industry to meet and network as our physical events, but in an all-digital environment. We have an outstanding programme of speakers presenting at our conference and workshops, including leaders from some of the world’s biggest travel retailers such as Dufry, China Duty Free Group, Lagardère Travel Retail, Gebr. Heinemann and DFS Group. It will also be the first opportunity for our trade to see our new TFWA 365 online platform in action, which will be used to power our online business meeting services and showcase the latest launches and brand activity. 

Delegates can register for the event on the TFWA website

The TFWA World Exhibition & Conference 2021 returns as a physical event in October. How much are you looking forward to the industry coming together in Cannes?

I’m personally very excited about the return of TFWA World Exhibition & Conference to Cannes this year. This sentiment is shared by our trade, with feedback from our recent member survey showing an overwhelming desire to return to physical events as soon as viably possible. While online meetings have helped to keep businesses connected, personal interaction and face-to-face conversations are some of the cornerstones of the duty free and travel retail industry and cannot be replicated in the same way through a computer screen. 

As we begin to emerge from what is undoubtedly the most challenging period in our history, it’s vital that all members of our trade have opportunities to come together to share ideas and develop new solutions that will help steer us through the storm and into calmer waters. As such, we strongly believe that TFWA World Exhibition & Conference will provide the perfect forum to facilitate this, and will act as a springboard to recovery for duty free and travel retail industry.