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If US President Barak Obama or German leader Angela Merkel happen to be travelling through Vladivostok Airport this year, they better not expect to stock up on duty free.

An in-store sign banning Obama and Merkel, along with the UK, Canadian, French, Australian and Japanese leaders David Cameron, Stephen Harper, Francois Hollande, Tony Abbott andShinzo Abe was this week posted on Instagram by writer Michael Idov and subsequently picked up by newswire services. Six leading Ukrainian politicians, including President Piotr Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk are included in the ban.

bab blogSource: Michael Idov; Telegraph Travel

The ban is a response to tighter economic sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of the crisis in Ukraine.

Could this create an intriguing precedent for the duty free industry as it takes its lobbying powers to a new, radical level? How about all intra-European Union airports banning former European Commissioner (and later Italian Prime Minister) Mario Monti – the man who killed off intra-EU duty free – from its stores, duty paid or otherwise?

Then again, wasn’t it Denmark which cast the death knelll vote in 1999? That’s it then – a blanket global ban on all Danes entering duty free shops to, say, 2299. That’ll give them the best part of three centuries to rue the miserable error of their ways (though as the industry is setting the rules, we better grant an honourable exemption to TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen).

Perhaps all duty free stores worldwide could also unite in barring World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan, though it is unlikely that she would have been seen buying her 200 Marlboro Lites anyway.

What a marvellous expression of fervent nationalism the duty free industry could become. Just think, Brazilian stores could have banned German footballing ace Toni Kroos and his teammates for the humiliation he and they reaped on the home nation in the FIFA World Cup match won 7-1 by Germany.

Equally, territorial disputes could easily be sorted by striking an offending nationality where it hurts – in the duty free allowance. And New Zealand airports could ban Australians from buying duty free because… well… because they are Australian. Ok, it could be disastrous for business but it’s the principle that matters, right?

Or what about the Eurovision Song Contest? If ever Norway is awarded ‘nul points’ again it can get its retaliation in first by prohibiting all other European nationalities from buying on arrival or departure at Oslo Airport. ‘Norwegians only’ (ok,  Ja, we’ll make an exception for Germans)’ will be the bold sign outside the Heinemann door.

Any other suggestions? The best (unless it’s from an Australian) wins a bottle of Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, duty free of course. Please send by e-mail to Martin@TheMoodieReport.com headed ‘Making no allowances’.

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In a  troubled world full of violence, greed and often downright evil, it’s the little things in life that restore your faith in humanity.

And so it came to pass last week during a whistlestop visit to Zürich for an informal dinner with The Nuance Group President Roberto Graziani.

Roberto, like me, is partial to a drop of fine wine and to salute his achievements with Nuance (soon to be owned by Dufry) down the years, I stopped off at the brilliant new Caviar House & Prunier store (above and below) at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 to buy him something suitable.

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The store has a magnificent range of fine wines including what, at €499,000, must rank as the highest price-point item in airport retail history. In this case make that ‘item’ in the collective sense – a vertical collection of Château Lafite Rothschild spanning 28 vintages from 1984 to 2011. That’s one case times 28 years = 336 bottles. A wine aficionado’s paradise.

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Château Lafite Rothschild is one of France’s most revered wines, one of just four ‘First Growth’ Châteaux in Bordeaux. Its wines consistently top the auction charts, most notably the 1787 vintage (thought to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson), which sold for US$156,000. I can confirm that I was not the buyer.

The Caviar House & Prunier selection, described as ‘the most unique vertical wine collection’ (‘most’ unique – ugh, one of my pet hates) can only be sold as a full 28-case purchase. Each case has been stored unopened in a bonded warehouse in Bordeaux.

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No, I didn’t buy the collection for Mr Graziani (sorry Roberto but my credit card limit was insufficient) but I did pick up an excellent Clos Henri Pinot Noir from Marlborough in my native New Zealand. The purchase was made quickly for, as is my habit, I was running late for my flight. Just how late became clear as I discovered the Swiss aircraft was departing from just about the furthest gate you could possibly imagine in the race from my Terminal 1 check-in to what turned out to be my T2 departure.

It’s been four years since I ran a decent 10k but it felt like I was back in full training as I raced towards the far-off gate B36 with every FID screen yelling (or so it seemed to me) ‘Flight Closing’.

I made it, just, shoe-horned myself into a window seat, where my sweat-drenched look, I believe, convinced a rather alarmed woman next to me that I may just have arrived in from Liberia.

With no time to store the wine overhead I pushed it under the seat in front of me, and proceeded to cool down from my sauna-like state.

Duly, both cooled and calmed down, I arrived in Zürich, where, again as is my habit, I took a walk around the Arrivals store, snapping the odd picture (and even some normal ones).

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I admired a pretty good wine selection (a nice mix of old and new world, with an encouragingly strong range of Swiss labels) and then it hit me… wine… gift… Roberto… oh no!

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Regular readers of this Blog will know that I am prone to the odd spot of, what’s that word again?… ah, yes, now I remember – forgetfulness.

Over the course of 12 years at The Moodie Report I have lost around 20 cell phones; numerous blackberries (probably a few strawberries and blueberries along the way); countless (and I do mean countless) chargers, adaptors and headphones; two passports; a briefcase (appropriately, only briefly); half a dozen or so tape recorders; I estimate around four dozen pairs of spectacles; many duty free purchases (well I do believe in giving back to our industry) and believe it or not at least a dozen shirts (do not ask). Certainly I’ve also lost my way (in airports and in life) on more occasions than I care to name and heck, I’ve probably even lost my mind on occasions.

I raced back to the Swiss Lost & Found office and described my plight. Could I get back to the plane to recover my wine? “Sorry, it is too late. The cleaners will find your item but it will take two to three hours to recover it.”

“Is there nothing you can do? It’s a gift for an important occasion tonight.”

“No, I’m sorry.” The official was friendly but firm. Instead he gave me a card with a telephone number for the main Lost Property office.

Cursing my stupidity in a now time-honoured conversation I have with myself on far too many occasions, I trudged wearily back to the Nuance store. Instead of a gift-wrapped bottle I would have to present Roberto a wine in a ubiqituous green Nuance shopping bag instead.

As mentioned, the collection was pretty good but on New Zealand Pinot Noir I didn’t find what I wanted. Given Roberto’s nationality, I opted instead for a good (in this case exceptional and travel retail exclusive) Amarone from Masi (subject of a recent Blog).

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“Can I be of any assistance?,” a very friendly Nuance shop assistant asked.

I chatted away to her, describing what had happened to my original purchase, who the wine was for and saying that I could not get through to the Lost Property department. She confirmed that the Masi Amarone was an excellent choice but didn’t stop there.

“Would you like me to try calling Lost Property on my phone?” she continued. She did exactly that, even chatting away in German for me to the man who answered.

Still, it became clear, I was out of luck. It would be Amarone not Pinot Noir for Roberto, Italy not New Zealand.

At the till, Petra spoke to Shop Supervisor Raphaela Prex, relating my experience. ”Let’s see what we can do,” said Raphaela, who took me back to the Swiss desk. Patiently she described again what had happened, mentioned my significant dinner guest and asked if there was anything that could be done.

We were referred to the main Lost Property office a few minutes away in the airport. As we walked, Raphaela chatted about her life, from her love of football (Liverpool and Bayern Munich) to the All Blacks haka (hey, this is a woman of real taste) and even about English rugby star Johnny Wilkinson (well everyone’s allowed their weakness, right?). She was an utter delight, bright, personable and helpful beyond belief.

When we got there we were met by a nice gentleman who checked for us on the state of the aircraft. “Sorry,” he said a moment later, “the plane has already departed – for Barcelona. Nothing seems to have been found.”

Barcelona! My Marlborough Pinot Noir was heading to Catalonia! The kind man (Mr Santa Croce, I believe was his name, though as I had also forgotten my glasses, I am not sure) took my business card and promised to call me if anything turned up.

And then… something did turn up. Just as we were about to leave, a young man came rushing through to the department carrying a security tray’s collection of items left on the plane. In among various items of clothing, a baby’s dummy (not mine, I hasten to add), and assorted electronic items was the distinctive Caviar House & Prunier bottle bag. And inside it was the now well-travelled Pinot Noir.

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It was one of those quietly exhilirating moments of relief that have regularly punctuated my adult life. I thanked my saviours (pictured above) and walked back with Raphaela to the Arrivals store.

“You have been SO helpful,” I said. “I am so grateful.”

“No, it’s my job,” she replied. “I like to serve people.”

But she went further. And here’s what she said: “I don’t just work in a duty free shop. I try to serve people nicely and make shopping part of the travel journey, part of their experience.”

Wow, that should be a mantra for everyone serving in this industry. And she likes (probably even performs) the haka! Does it get any better?

We bid our farewells and I headed to the new Nuance HQ just a few minutes from the airport. Too few minutes in the view of the taxi driver who grumbled relentlessly all the way there about having waited in the queue for an hour before getting such a short journey. I contrasted him with Petra and Raphaela in terms of being an ambassador for the city and for the airport.

Like all good stories this one has a happy ending and I was duly able to present Roberto with two outstanding wines from our respective home countries. Over dinner at the outstanding AC Hotel Palacio del Alfonso we drank a particularly good Tignanello from Antinori, preceded by a brilliantly refreshing glass of Torres Chardonnay.

I told Roberto about Petra and Raphaela. He noted their names and spoke fondly about the company’s strong service culture and about the people he has led down the years at Nuance. It was a nice evening and a reflective one.

I hope that service culture can be maintained within the constraints of a more financially focused Dufry (which, by the way, has an outstanding human resources department). I hope too that Dufry can bring together the retail excellence of Nuance ( Zürich is very good) with its own admirable disciplines. And I hope (and know) that whoever their employer, both Petra and Raphaela will be recognised as the gems they are, as I discovered on a day when nothing was lost (but instead found) in translation.

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It’s just over two months since the opening of London Heathrow Terminal 2 : The Queen’s Terminal, and the transition continues for many of the carriers that will eventually use the new facility. The stores and restaurants at T2 won’t reach their full trading potential probably until 2015, as airline capacity builds and as passengers get to understand their new surroundings.

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If, like me, you spent the past two decades arriving or departing Heathrow T1 from Ireland, T2 is a sight to behold. Where once you had to navigate the walkways of a long metal tube to access the crowded arena of boarding gates way beyond the centre core of the old terminal, today it’s a stride or two from check-in through security (currently an easy five minutes or less) and into the spacious airside complex. In that respect, so far so good.

Commercial is housed on two levels, a little like T5, with a mix of retail and F&B on both levels, with the gates leading off from the lower area. It’s quite compact, and those gates are all within fairly easy reach, which should enhance commercial dwell times in the future.

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The retail offer does, as Heathrow Airport promised, carry a British flavour, though how many of the brands really surprise and excite? John Lewis is a fine addition to the portfolio – and its offer is neatly tailored for the airport market with smaller items and some great gifting selections – but is that mirrored elsewhere? Not so much. (We’ll review the World Duty Free Group offer separately soon.)

But there is a channel where T2 does offer a real point of difference, with bespoke concepts and sharp executions, and that’s in food & beverage.

Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionists’ Café already looks like a highlight, with an accessible and accessibly priced menu (not always the case with celebrity chef openings), plus fine views over the lower floor and out across the airport.

Ca’puccino is a lovely, modern café with comfortable seating, enticing décor and a nice range; and Caviar House & Prunier, though not a new name, blends a vast restaurant space with iPad ordering with its own top-class retail offer – something new and different from a well-known brand.

Leon restaurant is quite quirky and even the main bar delivers something a little different. The London Pride Pub & Kitchen is bright, airy, comfortable and nothing at all like some of the less than welcoming bar environments at Heathrow and other UK airports. The menu too, though it lean on British classics, is a step above these counterparts in terms of quality.

Hopefully we’ll see some of these outlets up for nomination in future FAB Awards, assuming they can match their originality with strong trading in the months ahead.

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To what God shall we chant our songs of battle?

Oh, to whom shall a song of battle be chanted?

Not to our lord of the hosts on his ancient throne

Drowsing the ages out in Heaven alone.

The celestial choirs are mute, the angels have fled

Word is gone forth abroad that our lord is dead.

- Harold Monro, 1914

“I wish I had more time, I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed.”
- James Foley, 2014

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Last Saturday the All Blacks and the Wallabies (for the uninitiated, the national rugby teams of New Zealand and Australia) played out a nail-biting 12-12 draw in Sydney, in conditions straight out of the bleakest mid-winter scenes of ‘March of the Penguins’.

In pulling off the draw, the (delete expletives here) Aussies stopped the All Blacks from securing a world record 18 consecutive victories. Sport, as ever, can be cruel and the margins between happiness and heartbreak tiny.

As fortune would have it, just two days later as my depression was starting to lift, I was the guest at another head-to-head showing of Australasian (or as we Kiwis say, NewZealandOzasian) excellence, this time born not from Antipodean sporting fields but of the two countries’ respective vineyards.

The wineries were Craggy Range. which produces stunning wines out of Martinborough and Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, and Taylors, which makes an outstanding array of wines out of the beautiful Clare Valley in South Australia.

The tasting (more of that later) was arranged by the irrepressible Barry Geoghegan, Founder & Managing Director of Barry Global Innovation, a specialist wine company operating out of Ireland (it would be wrong, simply wrong of a Kiwi to make any cheap rugby jokes at Ireland’s expense here so I won’t, though if you want one click here), which is determined to raise wine’s profile in travel retail.

The venue was the London headquarters of famed French wine house Louis Latour (which represents both wineries in the UK) and on hand with Barry and me were Craggy Range Sales Director Warren Adamson; Taylors Wines Head of Export Sales Neil Hadley MW; and Laura Klingeman  of Seva Group (based in The Netherlands), which will be selling the wines into Latin America travel retail (Barry represents them on a global travel retail basis).

Make no mistake about the significance of companies such as Craggy Range and Taylors targeting travel retail. As I have suggested repeatedly, wine’s time as a category has finally arrived in our channel. For so long it was dismissed as a low-margin, irrelevant category in duty free. Try telling that to DFS at Hong Kong Kong International Airport, where the retailer generates an average transaction value of US$95 on wine – only about US$5 below that of spirits. That’s what can be done when you offer serious wines presented in a serious way. Yet often, way too often, I see wine displays in airport shops that would embarass the cheapest local market discount retailer.

As I write this, we have hit deadline on our weekly e-Newsletter so I’ll have to stop and go ‘live’ as we say in the publishing business with this preview of the whole Blog. Stay tuned for my tasting notes and some important observations from Neil, Warren and Barry about the future for fine wine in travel retail. And read how a second draw between two Southern Hemisphere giants in the space of three days occurred.

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Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Photoshoot

Is it a horse? A camel? A Dubai Duty Free-sponsored hybrid?

No it’s the world’s first-ever ‘human racehorse’,  conceived to celebrate the world’s premier international jockeys’ competition, today’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot Racecourse near London.

The giant horse (pictured ‘ridden’ by German jockey Steffi Hofer passing the Ascot winning post) is composed of ten acrobats (see how many you can spot. I’m still trying to figure out which is Colm McLoughlin and which is George Horan).

It took seven hours to create the figure, including five hours for hair and make-up (about the same time it takes me), ultimately creating a six-feet (unlike most horses who only have four) high equine look-alike.

Ascot Racecourse enlisted a team of talented contortionists courtesy of Scarlett Entertainment, and used make-up artists, Civilised Mess, to transform the human bodies using detailed animal artwork. Civilised Mess has previously created designs for Cirque Le Soir and Slamboree.

Now in its 14th year, the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup sees four teams (Great Britain & Ireland, Europe, the Rest of the World and The Girls) of top international jockeys seeking victory by collectively acquiring the most number of points for their team across the six-race card.

Footnote: To stirrup some further interest in this Blog and after a quick Gallop Poll, I’ve decided to add my five favourite Dubai Duty Free-related horse jokes of all time, none of them, I promise, created on the hoof. Here we go:

1) A poorly-looking horse recovering from a heavy night out with Peter Sant and the  Rémy Cointreau travel retail team and the Dubai Duty Free management limps into a bar with a bandage round his head. He orders  a flute of beautifully chilled Piper Heidsieck Champagne, a large balloon glass of Rémy Martin XO and, incredibly, a pint of Cointreau.

He downs  the lot and says to the barman: “I shouldn’t really be drinking this with what  I’ve got?”

“Why, what have you got?”

“About $2 and a carrot!”

2)  Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman Colm McLoughlin buys a crocked old racehorse and takes it to the vet.

“Will I be able to race this horse  again?” Colm asks.

The vet replies: “Of course, and you’ll probably win.”

3)  A White Horse walks into a pub at Dubai International Airport and asks for a whisky.

The barman says: “Hey,  did you know that Dubai Duty Free sell a whisky named after you.”

The horse replies: “What, Eric?”

4) A Dubai Duty Free executive on an Emirates plane back from the Cannes show wakes up and sees a horse sitting next to him, watching the inflight movie.

“Are you really a horse?” asks the retailer, clearly shocked.

“Yes.”

“Then what are you doing watching an inflight movie?”

The horse replies, “Well, I liked the book.”

5)  Dubai Duty Free President George Horan loses his favourite Montblanc briefcase while doing a store check at Dubai International Airport.

Three weeks later, a horse walks up to him in Concourse A carrying the briefcase in its mouth.

George can’t believe his eyes.

He takes the briefcase out of the horse’s mouth, raises his eyes heavenwards and exclaims, “It’s a miracle!”

“Not really George,” says the horse. “Your initials are engraved on the briefcase.”

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I have been challenged by several Irish travel retail executives to write this story, and write it I shall…

Above is the headline many Irish men and women thought they would never read. It’s certainly one that Irish friends of mine in travel retail thought I’d never write.

I had, after all, regaled all who wanted to listen (and many more who didn’t) about the magnificent combination of triumph, tragedy, perfection, pathos, delight and despair on show in the extraordinary contest between my beloved All Blacks and the most super-charged, sublime and, you’d swear, shillelagh-wielding Irish team you ever could hope to see in Dublin on 24 November 2013.

To recap. Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks. Never, I mean in the purest sense of the word – i.e. not ever. But on that crisp winter’s day in Dublin the men in green were possessed of a spirit (and ability) so great that it seemed undeniable, irressistible, even to the legendary men in black from the land of the long white cloud.

But deny and resist they did. Having trailed for precisely 79 minutes and 26 seconds (a rugby match is supposed to last exactly 80 minutes), the All Blacks secured the ball, interchanged it with the precision of a heart surgeon’s hands nearly 40 times between huge Kauri tree man-mountains and whippet-lean dancing sorcerors before striking a collective dagger through the heart of all Ireland with the winning try in the corner after two minutes and 34 seconds of sport dressed up as ballet, brilliance and brute force.

I had been invited to that game by Aer Rianta International CEO Jack MacGowan but could not attend due to other commitments. “Lucky you didn’t make it,” he muttered to me on the Monday, “you may have been strung up.” I didn’t sense much levity in his voice.

Working on the perhaps unwise theory that if you see a wound it’s worth pouring a litre or two of salt on it, I subsequently offered a limited-edition DVD of the match in a readers’ competition. Not just limited but also condensed – to the final 2 minutes and 34 seconds, of course. And here’s the thing, I received more abuse (good-natured to be fair) than I did entries. (By the way if you have not seen the footage, here it is https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=All+Blacks+vs+Ireland+2013+final+try - I have just watched it again, twice, to verify its quality…)

But as my dear old Ma no less, used to say of me and my Celtic skin and (alas, now long-gone) blonde hair, “You’re nothing if not fair Martin.” And so, in honour of that Dublin-born lass, Mary Madeleine Sophie O’Neill, I shall indeed be fair (I was going to say return to my roots but I don’t have any) and report another epic story from the weekend, when the Irish rugby team did indeed finally beat the black-clad Kiwis, by 17 points to 14.

Again it was 80 minutes of intense combat and unimaginable tension. Again it all came down to the final minutes. However, this time, at last, it was the Irish eyes that were smiling. But these were very different teams from those that played at Landsdowne Road in 2013. For one thing, these Kiwis were called the Black Ferns not the All Blacks. For another, both they and the magnificent team in green were made up of women not men. The occasion was a critical meeting at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France, where perennial champions New Zealand were hot favourites to win again.

Not if the Irish had anything to do with it. And boy did they have plenty to do with it. “Heroic” said one headline. “Historic,” screamed another.

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Both terms were eminently justifiable. But personally, I loved the more modest response of Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan, who said: “It’s absolutely wonderful to win against the world champions. Tonight we’ll go out and enjoy a beer, then tomorrow we’ll start getting ready again for Kazakhstan.”

A beer followed by a visit to a distant Central Asia republic? No, the reference to Kazakhstan was simply to the women in greens’ next match. I’m willing to stake my house on them winning by over 60 points. But (my mother may have been Irish but my blood runs neither red nor green but black) I will then place all my winnings back on the Black Ferns to rise not like a flightless Kiwi bird but like a phoenix, from the ashes of defeat to the mountain crest of champions.

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2 Responses to “Mighty Irish too good for New Zealand in rugby classic”

  1. m burke says:

    never knew you were interested in rugby Marcus !

  2. Marcus Griffin says:

    Hi Martin, fair play, and we could say that we in Donegal, my home county, helped you guys (all Blacks) along the way, with our very own David “Dave” Gallaher (30 October 1873 – 4 October 1917) as you know he was one of your great New Zealand rugby union footballer, best known as the captain of “The Originals” that toured Europe and North America in 1905 and 1906 – the first New Zealand national rugby union team to be known as the All Blacks. Gallaher was born in Ramelton, County Donegal, Ireland, & emigrated to New Zealand with his family as a child. Keep up the banter. Marcus

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Today bull by the horns

[MM with store designer/planner Alex Cook (right) and an unnamed carabao (centre, though you probably realised that)]

Sometimes you’ve just got to take the bull (or in this case the water buffalo, called a carabao in Guam) by the horns.

I’m back in London following a whistlestop visit to Guam and South Korea. But brevity does not equate to lack of substance. What a simply amazing (but not amazingly simple) few days. I’ve had the chance to meet new and emergent Korean duty free retailers in Seoul; catch up with the great commercial team at Incheon International Airport; to see (and be surprised by) Lotte Duty Free’s excellent new retail complex at Guam A.B. Won Pat International Airport; and to snatch some time with long-term industry friends.

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People often ask me how a man of my advanced years (they sometimes use less polite terms than ‘advanced’) stays on the road (well, technically in the air) for as much as I do, for as long as I do. Besides the obvious answer that it is all down to the excellent quality of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that I imbibe, the truth is twofold.

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Firstly, I am a passionate advocate of 1Above, a ‘healthy flying’ aerotonic drink produced by a New Zealand company of the same name (it has its own retail outlets at Auckland Airport, pictured above, and is now sold through Relay in other Australasian gateways).  It is rather better at keeping you hydrated than my usual blend of grape juice and water and it helps enormously with sleep patterns across time zones. What happened last week when I forgot to take it en route to the mid-Pacific? Answer: Sleepless in sea… surrounded Guam. Lesson learned.

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Secondly, and more importantly, I simply love what I do. As I’ve said before, I find the whole airport and airline world magical, including critical sub-sectors such as travel retail, food & beverage and airport advertising (my own variation on the train-spotting syndrome – I am endlessly fascinated by the great panoramas and positioning of airport ads – see below for a great example from Lotte Department Store at Incheon International Airport. Talk about power of impact.).

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I’ve always tried my hardest to capture that magic, and indeed my own (as the great Van Morrison would put it) sense of wonder, especially in this Blog. And on that note, I was delighted (but also sad, for reasons I shall come to) to receive the following e-mail from Julie-Ann Beattie (below), Manager Retail Development, at Christchurch Airport, which is of course my home town airport, the place from whence I left on my great life journey all those years ago in 1987.

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Alas, Julie-Ann, who has done a fabulous job through some of the most testing conditions any airport executive could have  faced (the impact of the two devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011), was writing to tell me she was moving on to a new challenge. But she also wrote some words which meant a lot to me, and I hope she will forgive me for quoting them here: “Hi Martin, I will miss the world of airports dreadfully and will continue to be an avid reader of all The Moodie Reports and Blogs – as there is no other industry quite like airports.  And with your insight and contact, you have the amazing knack of transporting those at the bottom of the world on a magical journey of awe – even if it is only for a couple of minutes. 

“In a world of consumerisation and the overstuffed consumer, it is refreshing to see your take on travel retail product development and merchandising creativity which at times is truly stunning and jaw-dropping.  Please continue doing so – it makes me want to travel every day!”

And me Julie-Ann. And me…

Thank you, and may the next stage of your life’s journey be successful, happy and fulfilling. No-one understood the desperately pulsating yet defiant heartbeat of Christchurch better than you, as you and your colleagues strove magnificently to keep the human lifeline that was the airport open at a time of fear, catastrophe and heartbreak and as (I know) your own home lay precariously, acutely vulnerable to the terrifying power of a force that would not relent for months. May you and the beautiful ‘Garden City’ of the greatest country on earth flourish forever.

Back to business. I think Julie-Ann is right in lauding the quality of some of the industry developments we are seeing increasingly around the travel retail planet. Yes, I know there is still much mediocrity but there is also so much that excites and even occasionally inspires.

I saw examples of both last week. Lotte Duty Free’s success in winning the Guam contract has been mired in controversy with DFS continuing to challenge the whole tender process, one of the bitterest rows in industry history. But last Wednesday’s Grand Opening was not the occasion to dwell on that. Building on a great retail vision and design by Singapore-based Lightfoot Space (take a bow Alex Cook and your colleagues for an outstanding job), and the passion, perserverance and ability of a hard-working local team, Lotte Duty Free has delivered surely one of the best retail offers in any small airport in the world.

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It’s not flawless but there’s plenty to cheer. The immediate visual impact as passengers clear security is stunning – the replica Carabao, the Guam Cultural Center and the giant aquarium combining to great effect and surely leaving no passenger in any doubt as to the provenance of the offer (or of where they are flying out of).

This truly is Sense of Place in ambition and (partly) in execution. I have championed that concept relentlessly for well over a decade and I remain frustrated by how frequently retailers, food & beverage operators and airports talk about it but fail to grasp the really important intellectual and cultural values that underpin it. Guam is a good and, I think, brave (especially in an airport with just 1.3 million departing passengers) attempt at, in the words of American author Ken Kesey, ‘Sometimes a great notion’. Now let’s see a better range of quality local products, more art and culture, some exhibitions, maybe even some live performances. Make this mid-Pacific paradise come alive even more.

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Beauty has been treated tastefully and with seriously strong brand impact from big international names and also an array of Guam debutantes, notably of course from Korea’s burgeoning skincare sector. Liquor, tobacco, luxury, watches and fashion accessories are all competently (and sometimes better than that) presented and the confectionery and food line-up is a big step up from that traditionally offered here. The sunglasses section is  top class. I also liked the feeling of ebullience and pride among the staff, resplendent in their colourful new uniforms (below) which nicely echo the vibrancy of the offer.

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uniforms

As I wrote in my original report, there’s a nice softness of tone to the overall environment, characterised by gentle design curves and locally inspired finishings (the banana leaf pattern is particularly alluring). The way retail has been opened up to merge seamlessly with the food & beverage offer is a deft and potentially lucrative touch and Lotte’s heavy investment has even manifested itself in a makeover of the airport’s long-maligned toilet facilities.

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[No longer a sinking feeling: Lotte has even refurbished the airport's long-criticised washrooms]

On that point, in 27 years of travel retail journalism I must say that last week was the first time I have been given a tour of an airport’s washrooms. Fearing a quirky pop-up store, I was relieved to witness instead a simple but essential upgrading of facilities which, like sub-standard retail and food & beverage, can have a disproportionate impact on an airport’s reputation.

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[MM with Lotte Duty Free CEO and members of Lotte's Guam team]

Later that evening before my flight I had a few casual drinks in a downtown Guam bar with some of Lotte’s local team. They were, as the saying goes, ‘letting their hair down’ (I let mine down years ago but never got it back) after one of the biggest, most-pressured occasions in the retailer’s history (despite boasting a business worth less than US$40 million, the airport carries huge significance in terms of Lotte’s international aspirations).

It’s at times like this that one really discovers what retail teams put into their jobs. It’s nice to see the high fives, the letting go of tension, the genuine interest in what an outsider thinks of their efforts. Great people doing a great job.

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Having slept from the moment I crawled into my Korean Air seat at 01.40 all the way to Incheon, I spent the next two working days meeting some of the  key figures in (and around) South Korean travel retail, our industry’s biggest market, and catching up with long-time industry friends. First up was KDB Daewoo Securities Equity Analyst (Textile & Apparel, Hotel & Leisure) Regina Hahm (above).

Regina’s insight into travel retail is as detailed and precise as anything I have ever experienced in the investment community. Read her comments on The Shilla Duty Free’s quarterly results published earlier this week and you’ll see what I mean. We had a wonderful dinner,  which I left knowing a whole lot more about the business than I had when we began. Analysts such as Regina read the industry in a slightly different (though often converging) way to a commentator and journalist such as me and the opportunity to compare notes was a rich one indeed.

The next day I had surely one of the great lunches of my lifetime with David Yu (centre below), CEO at Entas Duty Free, together with one of his managers James Kang (right), course after course after course of exquistely presented, deliciously flavoured representations of one of the world’s great cuisines.

Remember the name Entas Duty Free. It is going to make headlines. I, undoubtedly, will write some of them. The company plans to become Korea’s third-biggest player (after Lotte and Shilla) and will take a giant step towards securing that ambition when it opens a major downtown duty free store in the city of Incheon later this year, having already unveiled a seaport store there. Entas will chase a presence at Incheon International Airport and it would be a brave person who bets against them.

new david yu

The retailer is a subsidiary of The Entas Group, a leading Korean restaurant operator which owns and operates 80 Korean, Japanese and Chinese restaurants, including Kyungbokkung, Sapporo and Kokuryo. The group’s Song-do Hanok Village development – another arm of its business – was completed recently, introducing Korean culture and cuisine to foreigners visiting Incheon. I like those ideals very much. I dined at one of their biggest and best Seoul multi-restaurant facilities and as the pictures reveal, it was both a magnificent culinary experience and a visual feast of the senses. Watch this space, watch the Incheon space, watch the Entas name.

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entas food

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Later that day I also spent quality time with Incheon International Airport Corporation’s Director Concession Team 1 Sang J Ahn and his colleague Young-Shin Kim, Senior Manager Concession Team 1. They’re both really nice people, passionate about their role in sustaining Incheon’s status as one of the world’s greatest (and many people say the greatest) airports.

korean team

Young-Shin is working day and night on the forthcoming major food & beverage tender but most industry attention is, of course, on the Incheon duty free bid – a mega-contest if ever there was one. As Mr Ahn explained, the process cannot be kick started until a new CEO is appointed at the airport. Hopefully, very hopefully, that moment will be soon.

jeanie

I also squeezed in a dinner (after a two-hour traffic jam and an encounter with a seriously disorientated taxi driver who may, just may have been the Korean cousin of Robert de Niro) with MCM’s delightful Jeanie Jang (above), and, the next morning, a breakfast with long time Imperial Tobacco duty free executive John Kammerman (pictured below and, by the way, if you’re looking for a great duty free executive in Asia Pacific you won’t get much better).

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Then it was a dash once more to Incheon and the long ride home to Heathrow. Believe it or not, Young-Shin Kim came to the airport to see me off at my (very distant) gate, underlining the warmth, generosity and grace of the Incheon team (and in my view the Korean people). My full views will be the subject of a further Blog but I was hugely impressed by the seemingly airport-wide embracing of a totally service-led culture.

cutlure centre

I have raved before about the wonderful Korea Traditional Cultural Experience Center (above), a combination of shopping, culture, entertainment and education without equal, in my view, in the whole airport world. As for the airport’s live cultural shows (below), they are quite simply, showstoppers. Move over walk-through duty free, move in walk-through culture – I know which I prefer.

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cultureal

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[The Louis Vuitton store at Incheon International Airport has become a tourist attraction in its own right]

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[Tall stories: Hey, that giraffe just ate my hair...]

The core duty free shops, meanwhile, were doing a roaring trade. After a soft 2013, things are looking much better this year (a major factor in Shilla’s excellent quarterly results) and all the core category stores were simply teeming with customers as I left on Saturday.

shilla

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I flew home with the always excellent Korean Air (I want to send every single British Airways crew member, but especially the grumpy ones that seem to always be assigned to me, on the Korean Air service course), itself a retailer of great repute (some US$200 million in sales last year). I was going to write this Blog onboard. Instead, I must confess, I slept the sleep of the angels, the blue-eyed angels as a friend of mine terms them, all the long way home.

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[I'm loving that front cover...]

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[The shape of things to come: In a few weeks Lotte Duty Free will open its biggest-ever duty free space at the stunning new Lotte World Tower]

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“Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused – in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened – by the recurrence of Christmas.” Charles Dickens

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Reader, I am that Mann. Christmas just doesn’t do it for me. I basically don’t have the time; especially now I’m a working parent with a younger daughter who was born on Boxing Day (I KNOW, like December’s not busy/expensive enough). I start dreading the, er, advent of the festive season as soon as the first Christmas cards appear (increasingly, around mid-September, it seems). Preparing for a modern-day family Christmas is a full-time job – and I already have one of those – so the only way I can contemplate the annual tour of duty, which includes at least seven days’ hard labour chained to the stove (we always have house guests too), is by hitting the Malbec. Hard.

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All I want for Christmas…is under that tree

I give you the opening of Allison Pearson’s novel I Don’t Know How She Does It. Specifically the part where the central character Kate Reddy, fresh off the plane from a business trip, is up at 2am ‘distressing’ shop-bought mince pies so they look more home-made. Seriously, I’ve been doing that for years. What else is Waitrose for? To escape the drudgery of Christmas you have to either be born a man or pay another woman to do it all for you. In 2006 I went into labour on Christmas Day and not even THAT got me out of cooking the dinner. Give me Easter any day. There’s more chocolate and I’m usually on holiday.

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So when the invitation from Jo Malone arrived in my inbox – on 7 July, no less – to attend the brand’s Christmas preview today, I did give an involuntary shudder. Once a year is surely more than enough.

And yet. From the moment I crossed the threshold of Jo Malone London’s Townhouse, decorated with an exquisite wreath, something in me shifted. Because this wasn’t Christmas the way mere mortals do it. This was Christmas perfection. Not having relatives there doubtless helped.

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Crackers for Christmas – and some scrumptious Scented Baubles

At the bottom of the staircase was a stunning white and crimson Christmas tree, surrounded by Jo Malone gift boxes big enough to sit on, flanked by a dreamboat dressed in red velvet. At the top of a staircase was a divine-smelling snow-dusted room crammed with goodies: the entire Jo Malone festive offer, laid out on a table to lust over. Beautiful beribboned boxes, trimmed with scarlet, showcased a tantalising array of fragrances, bath products and candles – and an exquisite Cherry & Clove Scented Bauble.

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There is no such thing as too much glitter

On one side of the room was a wreath-making station (I actually tried this one year, in a freezing cold marquee in the middle of a field. Three hours of my life I’ll never get back and my efforts in no way resembled these works of art). On the other side was a desk displaying the bespoke glitter stencils consumers can have their gift boxes decorated with. I love glitter. I love red. I was weakening by the minute.

The next room featured a breath-taking Christmas table, dressed in the same striking white and crimson livery, complete with frosted cherries, a stunning centrepiece and a subtle sprinkling of snow. Mentally I have already re-decorated my dining room to accommodate this colour scheme and *may* have ordered some ivory candelabra this evening.

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Dinner is served, Jo Malone style

But the pièce de résistance was a mini ice-rink next door, set in the middle of a winter wonderland, inhabited by Luke, the hunky male model who appears in the Jo Malone Christmas ad campaign. Talk about a Damascene conversion. NOW I understand the attraction of Christmas, I thought, in a daze. OF COURSE it’s the most wonderful time of the year. On the event invitation, Jo Malone London promised “A World of Icy Enchantment”. It certainly managed to cast a spell on me.

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Gifts galore from Jo Malone’s #FrostedFantasy world of icy enchantment

Never slow to get my skates on, I was soon being escorted around the rink, holding Luke’s hand very firmly a) in case I fell over and b) just because I could. Jo Malone chose wisely when it came up with the #FrostedFantasy hashtag to promote the event, because frankly I was living the dream and beyond.

This is the type of Christmas I crave. Chic, classy and absolutely effortless – predominantly because someone else has done all the work. If my house ever looks like this on 25 December then I suspect, like Wizzard, I too will Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day.

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The lovely Luke, star of the Christmas ad campaign

It won’t of course, and on reflection perhaps that’s no bad thing. Nothing in the Jo Malone Townhouse – aside from the ice rink perhaps – would appeal to my family at this age and stage. It’ll be wonky Christingles, chocolate oranges, too much TV, board games and panto all the way Chez Mann, and I’m starting to think resistance is futile.

Come December, when I am simultaneously attempting to lay the festive table, dispose of Rudolph’s carrot, consume Santa’s mince piece, dust ‘snowprints’ on the floor, peel potatoes, stuff stockings, find fridge space for a birthday cake and check my kids are still asleep – all while keeping on the right side of the sherry – I shall take a moment, exhale deeply, and escape to the soothing memory of Jo Malone’s perfect Christmas tableau.

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Cool customer: The Moodie Report’s Rebecca Mann gets her skates on

Then, I hope, in the true spirit of the season, I will smile (possibly through gritted teeth) at July’s Frosted Fantasy, and give thanks for my own Flawed Reality. Has Jo Malone actually helped me bid goodbye to my inner Grinch? Maybe. If I can enjoy a make-believe Christmas in July (and against all expectations I really did) then perhaps I can enjoy a real one in December. US author Lenora Mattingly Weber says it best: “Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts.”

Here’s to a permanent thaw. Happy Christmas to all!

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guam viewHafa Adai from Guam. Now this is what I call a room with a view.

I’m staying at the newly opened Lotte Hotel Guam overlooking the bluest, most transparent sea you ever saw. This is the Pacific at its purest. A perfect, pristine scene.

It’s a busy work day for me on our weekly e-Zine so I’m taking room service (a sensationally good Seafood Ramen with Shrimp and Clam, washed down with a cold Asahi Dry) before the real purpose of my visit kicks in.

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As mentioned in my last Blog, I’m here as the only representative of the travel retail media to attend the Grand Opening of Lotte Duty Free’s new duty free, specialist and luxury retail offer at AB Won Pat International Airport. This follows a US$17 million makeover since the Korean travel retail contentiously won the contract ahead of long-time incumbent DFS Group.

Today’s a rest day (or in my case a working day spent, alas, viewing that Pacific rather than being in it) before an informal dinner tonight and all the celebrations tomorrow. I’m told by non-Lotte sources today that the stores are looking very good indeed and offer quite a point of difference to many smaller airports’ retail offers. I’ll know soon enough.

Guam lotte Lotte_Duty_Free_Store_600[This picture is from a few weeks back, I'll update tomorrow]

DFS, of course, still enjoys a very strong presence here in Guam, with its luxurious Tumon Bay T Galleria. And as the photos below show, it’s not missing a single trick in publicising that presence from the moment the tourist enters the country (all pictures taken just after landing at AB Won Pat International Group). On the rare occasions in its history when it has lost an airport contract in a market where it also enjoys a downtown presence, DFS has historically fought very hard to offset any impact with an aggressive campaign to promote its off-airport store and that’s certainly the case here.

Guam welcome to 1

Guam welcome to 2Guam dfs signsIt will be interesting to see whether Lotte, in time, tries to compete downtown also. That’s certainly one of the questions I’ll be asking Lotte Duty Free CEO Hong-Kyun (HK) Lee (below), who arrives in Guam today.

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Mr Lee is one of South Korea’s most experienced travel retail executives, having worked for the company since 1982. He knows very well the importance of this opening to Lotte’s international ambitions. It may be a comparitively small airport currently generating sales of under US$40 million but it’s also a showcase for retailing to Japanese, Korean and Chinese passengers and Lee and Lotte want to portray a high-class proposition here.

Watch this space, as indeed I will watching Lotte Duty Free’s – with, if you’ll forgive me, the odd glimpse at the Pacific waves below.

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