SWEDEN/ESTONIA. Travel retail stakeholders need to take a proactive stance on the issue of corporate social responsibility, rather than letting non-industry organisations set the agenda. That was the strong message from Nordic Travel Retail Group (NTRG) Chairman Erik Thomsen, speaking as the annual Nordic Travel Retail Seminar concluded yesterday on board Tallink/Silja Line’s cruise ship M/S Romantika.

He said: “Travel retail is all about great brands in a great environment. This environment offers a unique possibility to test new products and special packaging, and strengthen the position of our brands in the domestic market.

“However, this has become more complex in recent years. Our sector is no longer an isolated channel that consumers, as well as politicians, only become aware of when accompanying their families on annual summer holidays or enjoying city breaks, or weekend cruises.

“We have become an integrated part of the general business community in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Considering that social issues are becoming an integrated part of domestic market communication; consequently, it should also be an important part of our market communication.”

“The reality is that quite simply, if we choose to keep our distance and focus narrowly on products and customers, others will set the agenda and leave us at the mercy of the political process.

“I believe that it would inspire respect and demonstrate commitment if our sector takes a collective stand through organisations like ours and takes a proactive position on [social] issues. That would mean, for example, that we should not only take climate change seriously, but also ensure that our consumers know we do. An example is MyTravel Airways, which offers the consumer the opportunity to buy emissions compensation on their website.

“Why wait for other organisations to set the agenda? Why not look at all the areas where we can be proactive, and act? If we don’t, someone else will.”

From top left: Nordic Travel Retail Group Chairman Erik Thomsen calls for a proactive industry approach to social responsibility; ex-Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen delivers the macro-economic background; Tallink Group Member of the Board Andres Hunt outlines his company’s grand ambitions; the Nordic Travel Retail Seminar attracted around 115 delegates this year

Thomsen reaffirmed travel retail’s status as a great brand-building channel, which was the central theme of the day. “It’s reassuring to see the importance that some of the world’s great brands place on travel retail, and the important role it plays in driving those brands’ growth.”

He was speaking about the contribution to the Seminar of four brands and brand owners.

The speakers were Hugo Boss Senior Manager International Travel Retail Sales Georg Faisst, Kraft Foods Region Director EUAM Roger Winnewisser, BAT Travel Retail Europe Head of Brands Ben Thurley and Irish Distillers Regional Manager Global Travel Retail Michael Cunningham. Each emphasised the key role of travel retail as a marketing window for their brands.

Georg Faisst focused on the travel retail opportunity for fashion, and on key issues such as visual merchandising for the brand and the role of shop design to create the “˜Hugo Boss experience’.

Roger Winnewisser explained how Toblerone had been built as a brand through travel retail, and how many of the key initiatives to drive the brand originated in the travel channel.

Ben Thurley outlined the continuing important role that tobacco plays in driving footfall in travel retail stores, and how cigarette buyers help drive growth in overall sales, not just in the tobacco category. Plus he focused on how tobacco was now offering experiences, not just commodities, to consumers.

Michael Cunningham detailed the role of travel retail in the successful rise of Jameson as an iconic consumer global brand. And he underlined the ambition to become a 3 million case brand by 2010, and to see value sales rise faster than volumes.

From top left: Hugo Boss Senior Manager International Travel Retail Sales Georg Faisst, Kraft Foods Region Director EUAM Roger Winnewisser, BAT Travel Retail Head of Brands Ben Thurley and Irish Distillers Regional Manager Global Travel Retail Michael Cunningham underline the vital role of the channel to their brands

Also on the agenda was an entertaining and insightful presentation from Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, former Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who discussed the political and macro-economic outlook for the Baltic States, including the challenge of Russia, tax harmonisation in the new member states and the importance of travel and tourism.

Tallink Group Member of the Management Board Andres Hunt delivered an insight into the company’s big ambitions for growth. It has invested €1.8 billion in new ships in recent years, and by 2009 will have quadrupled retail space on its fleet to 12,000sq m, compared to 2002.

As ever, the social side played a vital role in the Nordic Seminar. Delegates were treated to the full overnight Baltic cruise experience via Tallink/Silja Line as the ship sailed from Stockholm on Thursday and arrived on Friday morning in Tallinn. On departure from Sweden they enjoyed the stunning views across the archipelago south of Stockholm as the ship sailed out to sea.

The Seminar was moderated by The Moodie Report Deputy Publisher Dermot Davitt.

Comment: The Nordic Travel Retail Seminar is a fine template for regional trade events, with a strong emphasis on networking, variety in the choice of annual location and the excellent welcome extended to newcomers. The content of this year’s event may have been skewed a little heavily towards the brand owners’ perspective alone – more input from concessionaires would have added variety to the programme. But the association continues to try and grow its conference into a useful tool for the regional trade, and its engaged, committed approach is to be applauded.

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