SINGAPORE. In a dramatic industry development, Tax Free World Association has cancelled the TFWA Asia Pacific exhibition and conference due to take place next month.

TFWA said the move was “a response to the concerns of the travel retail industry, which is struggling to recover from the combined effects of war, the outbreak of SARS and the resulting downturn in traffic”.

The event was due to take place from 20-23 May in Singapore. This drastic step, which The Moodie Report applauds, follows TFWA’s close monitoring of the impact of these global events on the air transport and travel retail industry. The Association has also conducted a telephone and e-mail poll of intended participants. “Most have stated that they would prefer not to travel to Singapore for the exhibition,” said TFWA.

The Association concluded that SARS-related concerns have affected the global duty free/travel retail industry to such an extent that it is not viable to maintain the event. In a telling statement, it said: “With the withdrawal of almost 50% of exhibitors and a number of high profile brands from the show, and a further number expressing their intention to withdraw, the attractiveness of the exhibition to buyers is diminished. Certain event participants have been dissuaded from travelling to Asia by their national governments, a concern for many companies, particularly with regard to uncertain insurance coverage.”

It added: “TFWA has noted the efficient and effective handling of the outbreak of SARS by the Singapore health and tourism authorities, and has been in constant communication with the relevant authorities since the outbreak. Recent disclosures concerning the spread of the disease, not public two weeks ago, have increased the concerns the Association would have during the event for its staff, suppliers and indeed all event participants.”

The decision to cancel the exhibition was taken by the TFWA Board, which was given the authority to monitor and take appropriate action by the Management Committee at its meeting on 11 April , 2003. TFWA will now review the implications of this cancellation at its 13 June Management Committee meeting.

Erik Juul-Mortensen, TFWA President, said: “Although at its meeting on April 11 the TFWA Management Committee decided to maintain the event, the developments during the last week or so have clearly shown that this is no longer an option. The decision to cancel TFWA Asia Pacific this year is regretted, but is believed to be in the best interest of our members, our exhibitors and the industry as a whole.

“Those who we would normally expect to welcome as visitors to the exhibition – the buying groups from airports, airlines and retailers – as well as the brands themselves are facing enormous challenges at the moment, in some cases fighting for their very survival. We understand the position of those companies that they do not feel able to attend at this time.

“Our industry is immensely innovative and resilient,” he continued. “By conserving its energies and focusing on the problems in hand at this time, I am confident that it will recover and emerge once again as a dynamic and exciting market force. We plan to return to Singapore in May 2004 and before that we will have the chance to meet in October in Cannes at TFWA World Exhibition.”

Comment: This is so patently the right decision that any commentary is largely superfluous. Full credit to the TFWA Board in reversing the earlier decision as soon as the situation deteriorated so alarmingly. Erik Juul-Mortensen’s comments are exactly right – parts of the industry are fighting for survival. There will be other years and other trade shows. Two major Asian events, the China Travel Retail Summit and now TFWA Asia Pacific, have now become commercial casualties of SARS. But those casualties are light indeed in the context of a worsening global health epidemic and a travel retailing meltdown in key markets.