THANKS; Charlotte Smith
Friday, 19 April 2013 09:04
Tax Free Tax Free World Association President Erik Juul-Mortensen talks frankly about the pressure of moving this year’s Singapore TFAP event; major changes at TFWA; why the global industry body and TFWA cannot be one; and TFWA’s drive towards commissioning less, but better research for the industry. Doug Newhouse reports.
It would be an understatement to say that the opening months of 2013 have been ‘challenging’ for Tax Free World Association, following the unexpected notification by the Suntec Exhibition and Convention Centre that it would not be ready to open in time for this May’s TFWA Asia Pacific conference and exhibition in Singapore.
TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen admits it is a headache, although soothed slightly considering Singapore’s new Marina Bay conference and exhibition centre is able to take it all over at very short notice.
So how much of a problem has it been and what can attendees expect from this new venue, we asked? “Well it’s been a headache. It’s an ongoing task and it’s one that we don’t want the exhibitors or the visitors to feel involves a lot of changes or a lot of work – but it does,” said a frustrated Juul-Mortensen.
‘AN UNFAMILIAR VENUE’
He said a new unfamiliar venue obviously calls for a completely new approach and while TFWA and the new venue’s management are working this all out now, he hopes that by the time exhibitors are in place and the visitors all arrive all they will see is seamless and smooth-running.
Juul-Mortensen said reaching this point is all that matters right now with TFWA doing all it can to ensure the Singapore 2013 show is as successful as it can be and he says there will be plenty of time later on for reflection on what has gone well or not.
“At the moment that’s not really at the forefront of our thinking. But to come back to the second part of your question we hope that when people get there they will see an absolutely smooth running event where all of their expectations are met and that they can do their work in the best possible conditions. So in other words, as few disturbances from the change in venue as possible.”
The fact that the Marina Bay complex is very close to all of the existing facilities that regular TFAP visitors are used to will obviously help here, while TFWA will be organising buses and transport wherever and whenever necessary to transport people, says Juul-Mortensen.
[Above: Marina Bay Sands hotel]
‘RESPONDING POSITIVELY AND PRACTICALLY’
But he would not be drawn on whether the Board will ever consider working with the Suntec organisation again, merely adding that all options remain open for the time being and that presumably includes compensation for such late notice from the Suntec.
Quite how everyone at TFWA will feel about this when it is all over remains to be seen, but right now the organisation appears to be responding positively and practically – albeit in difficult circumstances, although Juul-Mortensen did not complain.
“There is pressure and the team in Paris is definitely under pressure. Just think of such a thing as the floor plan. In the Suntec Centre we were moving into a new second floor with a floor plan we know and most of the exhibitors know. Here we come to a new complex where everything is on one floor, so just to get that absolutely huge jigsaw in place so that all the exhibitors – new and old – are happy is major, major work.”
He said this obviously involves speaking with every single exhibitor to make sure they are all onboard and understand the various changes from working on a much bigger single floor, to feeding electricity to their stands from the ceiling in the Marina rather than the floor points in the Suntec.
Needless to say, TFWA’s technical partners are naturally aware of all of these differences since they are familiar with the layouts and facilities in both the Suntec and the Marina where they have worked on numerous exhibitions in both places.
But while this unexpected change of venue was naturally the focus of much of TFWA’s activity in the early months of 2013, in the grand scale of time the association has undergone some major changes over the last couple of years. So what do these mean for both TFWA and the membership in future, we asked?
“Looking back I think the association has changed and for me it started with the decision for us to carry through a strategic review of the association a couple of years ago,” said Juul-Mortensen.
“For me that embarked on us taking a very, very harsh look at ourselves, what have we done, what have we achieved, what should we have achieved and are we living up to the expectations? Are we getting complacent? Are we doing what our members and the wider industry are expecting of us? “I thought that was a very, very healthy exercise and a lot of things came out of that.
“There are three areas in that exercise: one, really to look at our day-to-day operation and numerous changes came out as a result of that and some we are seeing going forward. We haven’t seen them all yet and that is ongoing work. Now I can’t remember the number, but we had numerous projects come out as a result of that.
“Then of course the second one was the global body which is still in process and which we are very hopeful will see the light of day this year.
[Left: Raffles hotel is hard to beat as a venue for the Opening Cocktail]
“And thirdly we looked at ourselves very carefully – how are we organized? How do we do things? Are we organized in the best possible way to do what we’re supposed to do? And that’s something we’re looking at right now.
“So for me the discussions around that really opened up a lot of good stuff and as a result you will have seen that the association has changed. We now realize that perhaps we have a more open and active role to play in supporting the industry and more so than in the past.
MORE IN THE FUTURE
“So yes, I know we helped form MEDFA, we formed APTRA and we support ETRC etc., but I think there’s a general realization in the management committee that we need to do more, we need to be open and we need to engage ourselves more in a number of areas.
“Now I know that this takes time, it takes money and it takes human resources, but the management committee feels that the association is really well placed to do that and I think that’s what’s coming out now.”
Having said that, Juul-Mortensen acknowledges that this is not only an internal view. Indeed, there have been many individuals and bodies – including The Business – who have been consistently impressed by the integrity at TFWA and subsequently strongly encouraged it to take on a much greater role on the global stage.
Juul-Mortensen knows better than most, since he is mostly the recipient of this encouragement, but while he acknowledges the positive sentiment behind it all, he says there are good reasons why TFWA shouldn’t be seen to be taking over the world.
[Above: TFAP conferences are often better than those in Cannes]
“Again, if I come back to the start of the strategy, what we did there was ask all of our own members first and then we went one step further and asked quite a lot of other stakeholders for their input about us – positive and negative – and there were both I have to say. That’s the only way we thought we could do it and we had some excellent one-on-one discussions with people who are, fortunately, not afraid of saying what they feel, whether bad or positive.”
Juul-Mortensen said that at the time this was exactly what TFWA needed and he recalled that some had plenty to say.
He said many agreed with The Business’ view that TFWA is best placed to take on more of a global role and could be doing so much more, so why isn’t it? “But then again you also have to turn the coin around,” said Juul-Mortensen.
“You know me well enough that I have always been and still am concerned about the role of TFWA in that sense. I think we are well placed to do more than we do now, but we also have to do that in close cooperation with all the parties and stakeholders out there.”