European duty free and travel retail industry entity nears as World Council debate continues

INTERNATIONAL. A working group set up by Tax Free World Association (TFWA) and the International Travel Retail Confederation (ITRC) to create a single voice for the European travel retail and duty free industry is expected to deliver its recommendations this autumn.

As a result, a new entity should be created by 2004.

At its meeting at the beginning of July, the ITRC board unanimously approved the creation of a strategic working group to work as part of a joint group with TFWA to develop a new trade representative body in Europe.

ITRC and TFWA have established a close working relationship since the former’s move to Paris late last year. A joint statement said: “The professionalism and skills in both organisations have blended well and there is now a drive to take this a step further.

“The combination of ITRC’s cross trade sector membership and TFWA’s broad based supplier membership has led to the need for a stronger, more widely supported entity to defend and promote the interests of the European travel retail and duty free industry.”

From the publisher: There’s hardly anything new or surprising in this report but at least it’s headed in the right direction. No-one would argue that this trade, under constant legislative threat as it is, doesn’t need an active defence lobby.

But what of progress towards a global body? We’d like to update you but can’t. In its latest TFWAVoice newsletter, TFWA refers to the decision late last year by national and regional associations to create a “World Council”, adding the significant rider, that the body is “albeit ‘virtual’ in the sense that it has no legal framework or structure.”

According to TFWAVoice, this “virtual council” will be presented in Cannes with proposals “which it is hoped will begin to turn the concept into a reality”.

Presenting proposals to a body that is itself so vague cannot be an easy task and one questions the public relations approach to the whole process – which has seen occasional references to the World Council (full name: The Duty Free & Travel Retail World Council – no easy acronyms there then…) in industry publications and at conferences but no coherent or consistent external message. Ask most people in the trade what they know about the process and they will shake their head and say something like “I know it’s been discussed but I’m not sure what’s happened.”

That’s partly down to politics. Associations between associations are never easy things (witness the famous and long running stand-off between French duty free association AFCOHT and the International Duty Free Confederation in the 1990s, which made Napoleon and Wellington’s relationship look cordial) and there are undoubtedly a number of agendas contributing to the confused picture.

But, at the risk of upsetting people, I find it surprising that some attempt to better brief the industry has not been made. Senior commentators in this business such as Doug Newhouse and myself have consistently argued the merits of a global council and are frustrated by the perceived slow progress. I say perceived because the reality may be somewhat different but how is one to know?

What is the state of play? Will a global body become a reality? When? Who is for it? Who is opposed to it? Who will fund it? Crucially, who will lead it? This is not a debate that even needs to be had behind closed doors. To the regulators of the world, the duty free industry must resemble a large (and rather slow) duck during shooting season. It’s a soft and easy target and all the “virtual defence” in the world won’t save it. It’s time to stop flapping and turn virtual into reality. Today’s announcement is a positive step down that road.

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