This story originally appeared on The Moodie Davitt Report, our content share partner. 

The Trinity Forum 2018, the world’s most influential airport commercial revenues conference, kicked off on October 31 as an impressive line-up of speakers took to the stage.

Over 500 delegates registered for the conference, which is taking place at the luxurious Jing An Shangri-La hotel in Shanghai.

A packed theater heard from speakers who included Shanghai Airport Authority Chairman of the Board of Directors Qin Yun, China Duty Free Group President Charles Chen, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Managing Director International John McDonnell, Groupe ADP Customer Division Director Mathieu Daubert, Sydney Airport General Manager Retail Glyn Williams, Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman Colm McLoughlin, and Harrods International Director Raj Assanand.

The theme this year is “The changing airport and travel retail commercial ecosystem.”

In advance of a full report to appear in a coming edition of The Moodie Davitt e-Zine, here is a snapshot of the day’s highlights.

The Moodie Davitt Report Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie kicked off the 2018 Trinity Forum with a welcome speech that set out the main theme of the event.

He began though with an emotional tribute to King Power International Group Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, so tragically killed last Saturday in an accident. To the poignant tones of Bill Fay’s ‘The Healing Day,’ delegates stood as one in impeccable observation of the tribute as Khun Vichai’s photo was shown on stage.

“Khun Vichai was an immense influence on our business. King Power’s airport and downtown stores in Thailand are among the world’s best. But he was also a kind and generous man who made immense contributions to many causes and to making the world a better place,” said Moodie.

“Khun Vichai was a great supporter of the Trinity concept and indeed of The Trinity Forum, which he hosted so warmly and unforgettably in 2011 and again last year. He was also, of course a football club owner, of Leicester City, known as the Foxes. The incredible flying Foxes, who defied near insurmountable odds to win the English premiership in 2016, ahead of all the greatest names in the game. As with so many things in life, that success was a triumph of Khun Vichai’s vision, commitment and investment.

“We join with his family, and all the King Power International and Leicester City management and staff in stating our deepest sorrow and condolences at Khun Vichai’s loss and I would ask you to stand and join me in a short moment of reflection and tribute to a fallen friend.”

Moving to business, Moodie went on to pay tribute to the burgeoning importance of China to travel retail, calling it the “epicenter” of the sector.

The need for digital innovation is sure to be a common topic of debate throughout the event, and Moodie highlighted some of the most creative and engaging digital campaigns of the year, from brands such as Lancôme and YSL Beauté.

“Travel retail’s commercial ecosystem has changed beyond all recognition in recent years,” said Moodie. “But if we are able to adapt, the future looks bright.”

The potential customer base, he said, is enormous. So long as we convert footfall into penetration, our industry has the potential to grow and prosper.

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The Moodie Davitt Report Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie opens the 2018 Trinity Forum in Shanghai. Photo: The Moodie Davitt Report

“Mankind will continue to travel in ever greater numbers and if our industry can aspire to deliver its unique combination of great brands, great food in great amphitheaters with great experiences then the future is positive.”

Next up was ACI World Director General Angela Gittens. Her address considered the importance of airports and aviation to the wider world, citing job opportunities in particular. “What we do matters to the world economy,” she said, stressing the importance of the subjects in discussion at Trinity not just to the delegates gathered but far beyond.

Gittens went on to share ACI data that showed “robust” passenger growth last year of +7.5 percent–one of the strongest on record, adding that traffic looks set to double by the end of the 2030s.

She also noted that non-aeronautical revenue continues to account for over 40 percent of total airport revenue, highlighting food & beverage as a key opportunity for growth and explaining the correlation between passenger satisfaction levels and spend per passenger at airports.

Food and beverage services are an opportunity for airport revenue growth, says ACI World Director General Angela Gittens

Shanghai Airport Authority is hosting The Trinity Forum 2018. Qin Yun, Chairman of the Board of Directors, took the stage to welcome the 500+ delegates from across the world.

He explained that the authority has big plans to expand its airports, with a focus on improving its travel retail offerings. What is most important, he said, is to improve the quality of passenger service and experience.

Speaking later with The Moodie Davitt Report, the Chairman expressed his passion for his city and its ever-changing nature. Each time you visit, he said, you will see something different, something new. The same clearly applies to his airports.

Next came an official welcome from senior local government and civil authority officials from the city of Shanghai.

Shanghai Business Development Research Center Director Dr. Hua Zhu expressed his happiness to be able to welcome delegates to the vibrant and forward-thinking city.

China Civil Airports Association Chairwoman Ruiping Wang said she was happy to be able to work together with The Trinity Forum and its organizers towards a better future for Chinese aviation.

The first keynote address of the day was given by China Duty Free Group President Charles Chen, who focused on the key factors affecting the Chinese market, and the ways that the industry can adapt to better service today’s Chinese traveler.

In terms of outbound passengers, said Chen, Chinese citizens travel more and spend more than any other nation. And this pattern looks set to continue. This year, outbound travel grew +15 percent year-on-year compared to the first half of 2017.

Chen went on to consider the changing nature of the Chinese traveler. Passengers are more and more sophisticated, he said. And no longer can we split them into the three groups of middle classes, millennials and generation Z. They are more diverse as a group than ever before.

They are also using increasingly diversified methods of travel, and they are highly influenced by the internet in almost every aspect of daily life–travel included.

New, innovative experiences and brands are what these sophisticated travelers are looking for. And Chen argued that their needs can only be sufficiently met by a “seamless omni-channel experience.”

Another point of note was Chen’s enthusiasm for travel retail-exclusive products and collections. In fact, he called on brands to give him more.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka Managing Director International John McDonnell made digital communications the focus of his address to Trinity delegates. Specifically, how can the industry’s key players come together to offer the digital service today’s customer craves?

Today, said McDonnell, “we are possessed by our devices.” The ‘I-Generation’ are said to pick up their phone 300 times a day. And, actually, so do other generations. McDonnell, a self-confessed Baby Boomer, spends hours a day staring at his phone.

He also pointed to research that found 67 percent of American millennials would prefer to order online. McDonnell added that “China has cracked the code” in this area, digitalizing services and infrastructure at an impressive rate. But can anyone else? At the moment, he said, the travel retail channel simply isn’t meeting the needs of anyone under 40.

Groupe ADP Customer Division Director Mathieu Daubert took to the stage to discuss the ways ADP is adapting to the changing world that we live in. Who is the customer today and how can we engage them? he asked.

Daubert described the modern traveler as health conscious, saying they’re more educated and aware than ever before, and that they’re less convinced by duty free “bargains.”

He noted that this change is a serious opportunity for other revenue channels, in particular food & beverage.

However, this doesn’t remove the appeal or the importance of travel retail. For Groupe ADP, said Daubert, this will continue to be a main focus. As price competition becomes less important, the plan is to focus on service, personalization and experience.

To achieve this, Groupe ADP is moving away from a traditional “beauty free” approach and layout at its airports. Instead, the spaces will be rearranged to reflect the traditional Parisian department store. He also outlined the hugely ambitious plans for Paris’ airports, with 40,000 sqm of new commercial space coming into play in the next two years.

Adding to the airport perspective was Sydney Airport General Manager Retail Glyn Williams, who noted the important of experiences and service (a running theme of the conference). He also highlighted the exciting and creative design-led approach to retail that he has seen recently in airports across the world.

However, despite the positives he sees in the industry, he also said that change is needed in some key areas. Firstly, he said, we need disruption in terms of brands. Wellness, tech, niche and local brands should have more of a presence.

Secondly, he suggested the industry reconsider how it sells to customers and the limits placed on it. Why be limited to three bottles of alcohol when–potentially–it’s possible to sell customers a case and have it shipped to them at home?

Disruption and innovation is needed, said Williams. And the most disruptive approach is to take travel retail – and travel retail products – outside of the airport.

A key message was that airports offer huge opportunity to retailers and brands, and he questioned recent criticism of the industry model, at a time when the underlying conditions for all parties were strong.

Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman Colm McLoughlin then put the realities of today’s travel retail industry into perspective with a trip down memory lane, outlining the company’s remarkable progress since it was founded in 1983.

In 35 years, Dubai has gone from a small airport to the world’s busiest, and DDF has become the biggest travel retailer at a single location.

The company makes a significant contribution to the economy and the community of Dubai, providing everything from world-class tennis tournaments to Irish pubs.

DDF, said McLoughlin, has achieved this success as a result of serious investment in its staff and training and in an overarching commitment to excellence.

Harrods was another strong retail brand name represented on stage, as International Director Raj Assanand continued the consideration of big picture issues within the industry.

Sharing the company’s “Master Plan” for 2021, Assanand highlighted the continued importance of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and the international traveler, as well as the rapidly changing profile of this customer.

“The luxury customer today is changing,” he explained. Today’s HNWI consumer is demanding, and “you really, really need to be at the top of your game. All this is a challenge… but we see it as an opportunity also.”

How can businesses gain and sustain customer loyalty? How can physical retail–and in particular travel retail–deal with the threat of e-commerce? These are key questions for Harrods and for the industry as a whole, he noted.

Assanand mentioned a “massive” financial investment coming soon that will help to build Harrods’ customer loyalty and satisfaction. Some 60 percent of the company’s London flagship store will be overhauled in four years with an investment of more than £200 million. (The process has already started.)

Experiential retail, emotional connections and Sense of Place all have a crucial part to play, he explained. Experiences are “worth their weight in gold,” he said. “Harrods is constantly innovating and focusing on customer experience.”

Harrods’ airport stores do very well, continued Assanand. The company’s travel retail spaces are built around its Britishness, its heritage and its high level of luxury.

Though the brand must be highly selective in terms of space and location (in order to protect its authenticity), Assanand said it does have plans to expand in the channel.

He also teased a new Harrods tea room concept, which is set to open in Q1 next year with Qatar Duty Free. It will be the brand’s first airport tearoom.

The most important factor in Harrods’ continued success, according to Assanand, is its commitment to genuine luxury. The term, he said, is overused these days. But at Harrods it is taken very seriously. “The Art of the Possible” is the name Harrods gives to this commitment: it looks to make the kind of luxury that one might think impossible, eminently possible.

The Moodie Davitt Report Events & Corporate Social Responsibility Director Michael Barrett, along with Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie, wrapped up the day’s conference with news of The Moodie Davitt Report’s “Duty Calls” charity dinner and beneficiary, child and youth charity Friends International.