TFWA Asia Pacific: confidence in Asia

28 April, 2023

This month’s TFWA Asia Pacific Exhibition takes place at a time of rebirth for the region’s travel retail business after years of Covid-related misery.

The TFWA returns to Singapore’s spectacular Marina Bay Sands Expo Centre this month as optimism is reinstalled in the region after three long Covid-disrupted years. Airlines in Asia Pacific reported a welcome 363.3% jump in international traffic last year, according to the International Air Transport Association, and China’s reopening has further boosted passenger numbers this year, quickening the pulses of duty free retailers in anticipation of better times ahead.

Consequently, this month’s TFWA Asia Pacific Exhibition should be a distinctly upbeat affair. The show’s opening conference on 9 May will aim to explore the potential commercial opportunities that the return of international travellers across Asia will bring. The conference begins with four industry-relevant sessions, with the first, Asia Pacific at the Crossroads, discussing the current geopolitical and economic landscape in the region, as viewed by former Singaporean foreign minister George Yeo.

A panel session will follow that focuses on travel retail and duty free, entitled Preparing for Growth. It will feature industry leaders from brands and retailers active in the Asia Pacific region. The discussion is likely to cover topics such as product range, changing customer behaviour, and the post-Covid business model.

After a coffee break, the conference will continue with an update on the latest travel trends in the region, with data-driven insights provided by airport trade body ACI and global travel data provider OAG. A final session will then follow, dedicated to the latest data and insights on key Asian travelling nationalities, with input from brands and consumer experts.

In early April, more than 50 wine and spirit companies had signed up to attend the show, including multinationals such as Beam Suntory, Diageo Global Travel, Moët Hennessy and Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail. New or returning exhibitors this year include Beenleigh, a craft rum distillery from Australia, El Toro tequila, Jägermeister, The Cotswolds Distillery and the Travel Retail Fine Alliance, a quintet of fine wine companies joining forces to grow in the channel (Alert Bichot, Cono Sur, González Byass, Masi and Symington).

China’s decision to drop its Covid-related travel restrictions has revitalised the wider region’s travel retail prospects for 2023. Granted, there are concerns over whether airlines and airports have the capacity and staff to cope with the expected influx of Chinese travellers, but the rebound prognosis for Chinese tourism remains strong. For instance, the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute has predicted the country will surpass its 2019 total with 179 million outbound trips by 2025. By 2028, that figure is expected to reach 200 million.

The long-awaited return of the Chinese is really the missing piece of the travel retail puzzle which repairs the channel’s reputation as the pre-eminent launchpad for luxury wines and spirits following the disastrous Covid interregnum. This aspect of the business was fully on show at the recent annual Masters of Wines & Spirits exhibition, which travel retailer DFS Group held at its DFS Galleria store in Macau at the City of Dreams entertainment resort in March.

Top-level showcase

This year’s theme was Elevate Your Senses and more than 100 rare and exclusive whiskies, cognacs, rums, tequilas, wines and spirits from over 50 companies were featured in the month-long exhibition. Among the amazing whiskies showcased was The Dalmore Constellation 1969 Cask 1 Elie Bleu Edition, an exclusive collaboration between The Dalmore and world-renowned cabinet maker Elie Bleu, which specialises in luxury cigar humidors.

As for luxury wines, Champagne Armand de Brignac presented Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs, a blend of three vintages (2009, 2010 and 2012) produced from villages in the Montagne de Reims region famed for producing the best Pinot Noir grapes, aged in cellars for six years, and limited to 3,535 bottles worldwide. In a similarly stratospheric price bracket, the revered Bordeaux label of Château Haut-Brion offered three highly regarded vintages for the event: 2011, 2015 and 2016.

Elsewhere, the pace of luxury launches into the travel retail channel is quickening. It’s almost as if drinks companies are making up for time lost during the pandemic years.

For instance, Proximo has launched the oldest expression ever to be released from Northern Ireland’s Bushmills Distillery. Limited to 690 bottles, Bushmills 33 Year Old Port Cask is the last entry in the distillery’s Causeway Collection, going on sale at London Heathrow airport with World Duty Free, priced at £1,245.

Not to be outdone, The Edrington Group has launched the oldest Highland Park single malt whisky in the Orkney distillery’s history for one month at London Heathrow before a wider rollout to selected locations worldwide.

Highland Park 54 Year Old was distilled in 1968 and is limited to only 225 bottles, one for every year of the distillery’s history. Housed in a stunning presentation box sculpted to represent the spectacular cliffs of Yesnaby in Orkney, the whisky comes with a hefty, recommended retail price of £39,000.

In a digital age where luxury brands are increasingly turning to the burgeoning NFT market for rare releases, the post-pandemic travel retail channel is stubbornly clinging on to its reputation as an ideal launchpad for high-end spirits.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.