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Bob farewell 1 new

 

Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring
- Oh Captain, Walt Whitman

Last week The Moodie Report bade farewell to a wonderful individual, an ever-present, pivotal influence in our success since he joined the company shortly after its creation in 2002.

I’m talking about Bob Wilby, Chief Operating Officer, friend and quirky, eccentric, lovable man. He is known variously as ‘Captain Bob’, reflecting his military background and manner, and (by me at least) ‘Bob backwards’ as I always say he hates having his name spelled the wrong way around…

Every business leader needs foils to his own personality, strengths and weaknesses. Bob and I were foils just as we used to be when we met on the wintry rugby fields of England nearly a quarter of a century ago. We played for an outfit called ‘The Twickenham Bulldogs’ but we called ourselves the Bald Dogs.

I was a fly-half, used to controlling the game, to having my own way, always running at the opposition, haring off (and hair off) in all directions, my teammates having no way of understanding where I was going as I had no idea myself.
Bob was the straight man. In posture (he must have gone to modelling school), in playing style. He tidied up; he was the finisher. He played right wing (like his politics). He was the flying winger, I was the whinging flyer.

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In business, nothing was different. I would come up with scatter-brained notions by the day, usually informing him after they had already been implemented. Some (notably, of course, The Moodie Report) succeeded; others were scattered to the four winds of entrepreneurial madness. While I would leap up and down with excitement at my latest great notion, the real Captain of the ship would quietly consider the impossibility of it all, go and puff on one of his many daily cigarettes, sometimes chuckle, sometimes seethe and then begin sorting out the mess. When he went really silent, I knew I had messed up. I was never quite sure who was boss of who.

Without Bob, The Moodie Report would have been left in the starting gates of start-up zeal. Somehow he would always pick up the pieces, always ensure everything was just so. He was our interface with advertisers, suppliers, service providers and, of course, staff. No-one had a bad word to say about him.

In a moment of semantic improbability I once called him on video ‘the glue in The Moodie Report sandwich’. Please do not try such culinary temptations at home. But you know what I mean.

Bob’s a modest fellow, not one for grand ceremony, so even convincing him to attend his own farewell party was a struggle. But attend he did. There his friends from The Moodie Report down the years gathered to toast him, to present him with some great wines and Armagnac from his ‘Moodie birth year’ of 2002 and a picture we knew he would like (below). Bob cast as Captain. Our Captain. Our one and only Captain Bob.

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I have survived my second tour of duty at London Fashion Week (LFW) unscathed (unless you count a case of serious, possibly incurable, shoe envy). You may remember that my debut visit to the event, last September, proved somewhat draining – I just about managed to recover in time for Cannes. Nonetheless I jumped at the opportunity to return for the A/W15 season, courtesy of Toni & Guy. But this time I went prepared.

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The Welsh Chapel proved the ideal place to worship Sophia Webster shoes

Last November I hired a personal trainer who could teach E.L. James’s Mr Grey a thing or two about inflicting pain. Thanks to his tutelage I can now knock out a respectable number of sprint drills, execute five pull-ups (seriously hard!) and sumo squat 65kg (considerably more than my body weight). And if you think that none of those are useful skills at LFW, then clearly you’ve never been. Though in hindsight, agility training and some form of martial arts instruction would have been helpful too, in order to fight my way through the heaving crowds clogging up Chinatown that weekend in order to celebrate Chinese New Year.

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The Toni & Guy team prep the Webster wigs

My first event was a backstage rotation at shoe designer Sophia Webster. The location? The Welsh Chapel on Shaftesbury Avenue. Reader, I couldn’t have felt more at home if they’d planted rows of daffodils and sung me ‘Calon Lân’. Fabulous footwear, showcased in a building seemingly transported from the Land of My Fathers. It was as if St David’s Day had come a whole week early.

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Working the wig on the Webster ‘catwalk’
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A darker take on Toni & Guy’s angular bob
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Highlights of the A/W15 shoe collection
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Bending over backwards to showcase the shoes

Last season the Sophia Webster models rocked a “cyber-punk meets jungle” vibe, complete with bright cobalt dreadlocks. This year Toni & Guy’s Global Hair Ambassador Mark Hampton and his team worked with wigs to create strong, angular bobs – a look inspired variously by Karen Elson, The Fifth Element and the Triadic Ballet – quite a trinity.

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Ready to join the fash pack at the Criterion

I returned several hours later for Webster’s front-of-house ‘Freak Like Me’ show, which was more performance art than fashion parade. I am still drooling over the shoes (and already saving up for when a certain rainbow butterfly pair hit the shelves next season).

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A full house jockeys for position at Matthew Williamson
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Glam boho waves complement the designer’s zodiac collection

In between the backstage and front-of-house sessions at Sophia Webster I was lucky enough to watch the Matthew Williamson show at the Criterion in Piccadilly, a rather more conventional affair, but no less compelling. Here the hair was all about glam boho waves, accented with high volume and undone curls. And the clothes! Rich jewel tones inspired by the 12 signs of the zodiac, embellished with glorious prints and patterns. Devon Windsor’s hand-beaded horoscope gown that closed the show left me light-headed with frock lust. Dizzy with dress desire (or possibly hunger – ironically only the models seem to eat at LFW) I threw a handful of Haribo down my throat and hot-footed it to Kensington.

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Access all areas at Vivienne Westwood Red Label

My final session was a backstage rotation at Vivienne Westwood Red Label, at the Science Museum, where the Mane Man himself was demonstrating the various looks to his team, resplendent in a Westwood suit.

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The Mane Man Mark Hampton hard at work

For this show, Hampton and his team delivered a variety of different looks, all inspired by the designer’s youth. The general vibe was described, in fluent fashion-speak, as “real, rough-around-the-edges punk.”

Watching Hampton work is a proper privilege – and no matter how fast and frantic the backstage area becomes, he is unfailingly courteous and considerate, always finding time to graciously greet the media, explain show themes and hair methods, and motivate the models. He’s everything an Ambassador should be, and a very astute appointment by Toni & Guy.

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The actual Vivienne Westwood catwalk

The highlight of the day however, came right at the end, when I was ushered towards the exit via a second backstage area, which housed all the Westwood Red Label clothes, shoes and accessories. The final way out was via the actual show catwalk (albeit covered in plastic at that stage) which we were Actually Allowed To Walk On. I don’t think Cara Delevingne has too much to be worried about, but I thoroughly enjoyed strutting my stuff and posing à la Zoolander (Blue Steel! Ferrari! Le Tigre!). I shall probably stick to the day job, but that romp down the runway was a model end to a wonderful day. Many thanks to Toni & Guy for the opportunity and experience.

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Great to see Ken Tse back in the business.

This morning’s announcement by LS travel retail Pacific that they’ve secured Ken’s services as Head of Operations – Duty Free & Luxury represents a masterstroke by General Manager Ivo Favotto.

Ivo knows Ken well from their shared time at The Nuance Group and will have been delighted at the timing of the latter’s return to Melbourne to be with his family. But could the stars align? First, LS needed a big contract win to be able to lure and afford the former Nuance-Watson Singapore Managing Director. Via the Auckland Airport duty free contract, announced last Friday, they got it.

As I noted in my original story, Ken is both popular and respected. His relationship with an always demanding Changi Airport Group was consistently excellent over 13 years; brands knew he could be tough but was always fair; peer retailers found they could discuss common issues in a non-parochial way with him.

As I have discovered many times down the years, Ken’s also got great knowledge and insight relating to travel retail, gleaned from his many years with Nuance-Watson and before that DFS.

LS travel retail Pacific will now benefit from those qualities. So will Auckland Airport. So it’s a case of welcome home Ken but also welcome to Godzone country (New Zealand of course), where I suspect you’ll be spending an awful lot of your time.

 

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Courtesy of our national carrier British Airways, my Yeti-like carbon footprint has probably earned me enough air miles to fly from Heathrow to Neptune four or five times a year, first class of course.

As a result let’s just say that I’m well versed in terms of the BA product. I could probably recite their entire inflight catalogue (produced by Tourvest and consistently excellent by the way); I know exactly which movies are showing and, heck, I’m even on first-name terms with many of their crew. While the service can have its vagaries I’m generally a happy consumer at the end of most flights.

But my experience onboard BA 38 from Beijing to Heathrow yesterday exceeded any other I have had in nearly three decades of flying with the airline. What an exceptional crew and none more so than one Alan Hughes (below), Cabin Services Director.

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After a tough week in China, including a couple of long domestic flights, I simply wanted to relax all the way back to London. No laptop, just a glass or two of wine, a movie (the desperately disappointing Gone Girl) and some badly needed sleep. Alan, a delightfully effusive and flamboyant chap, and two of his colleagues Denise and Laurent certainly ensured the wine (a marvellously crisp and alluring Vasse Felix Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion from West Australia) kept coming and all was peaceful for once in the mad, mad world of The Moodie Report.

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Picking up an Antipodean trace in his accent, I asked Alan where he was from.

“New Zealand.”

“Ah, me too. I’m from Christchurch. Whereabouts in New Zealand are you from?”

“Promise you won’t laugh?”

“I promise.”

“Twizel.”

I laughed out loud.  There’s just something in the word ‘Twizel’ (pronounced Twy-Zil) that makes Kiwis laugh. That and I suppose that it has a population of around 1,200 (1,201 before Alan left) and probably four times as many sheep.

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Twizel (pictured above during rush hour) is described lyrically on the town’s website as “an alpine village and a fly fishing paradise” (any place where people fish for flies has gotta be strange, right?).

Mmm, that’s not how I remember it. Twizel was built as recently as 1968 to house workers on the Upper Waitaki Hydroelectricity scheme, at one time reaching a population of around 6,000.  It was full of hard men, in town to earn a living a hard way. Accommodation was highly segregated: in addition to single men’s quarters in the middle of town, there were different houses available – the smallest for workers, staff houses for teachers and professionals, and the largest for engineers and other ‘high-status’ residents.

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[A great place to fish for flies]

It was a tough place, the sort of town you might imagine Olive Kitteridge being filmed in. Maybe Twin Peaks. Come to think of it Hitchcock might have settled on it for Pyscho. Beware the local motels. Somehow I couldn’t picture Alan in Twizel.

“I told you you’d laugh!”

“Sorry Alan. I didn’t mean to. Honest.”

We both laughed some more. The conversation, as it does with Kiwis, turned to wine, food (“I always recommend the lamb when we have it,” said Alan) and travel. I told him about a friend in the business, Barry Geoghegan, Founder & Managing Director of Barry Global Innovation, who represents one of my favourite Kiwi wines Craggy Range and of its Sales Director Warren Adamson, like me a London-based Kiwi. I recommended he seek out the Craggy Range Pinot Noir in particular.

I told Alan that I’d even wrote a spoof song about Barry called ‘I’m a Craggy Ranger and I’m ok’ sung to the tune of Monty Python’s ‘I’m a lumberjack and I’m ok’ (and mostly unprintable in a family Blog such as this). We laughed some more and I went back to my movie and Vasse Felix.

A few minutes went by and Alan returned to my side.

“I remembered that wine you mentioned and then I saw we were serving it in First Class,” Alan beamed. “So this is for you, courtesy of your friends at British Airways.”

It was a bottle of Craggy Range Pinot Noir.

How about that? Twizel’s most well-travelled son turned flying Craggy Ranger. What a wonderful touch. Thank you Alan. Thank you British Airways. It’s enough to make me burst into song. Altogether now, you know the tune…

I fly around, I serve onboard

I find it rather strange

That anyone drinks anything

Except BA’s Craggy Range

[Chorus] He’s a Craggy Ranger, he’s okay, He flies all night, he flies all day.

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3 Responses to “He’s a Craggy Ranger and he’s ok”

  1. Paul says:

    A fine drop of kiwi wine, and two fine kiwi blokes. All the best Martin!

  2. Gerry Munday says:

    loved the story Martin, doesn’t matter where you come from in NZ it is without doubt gods own country.
    Glad to see BA has not let you down once again

  3. Hi Martin,
    That was a first class blog my friend !!

    Regards

    Craggy Ranger Barry

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As mentioned in my last Blog, I should have been in Haiti this week but had to postpone at the 11th hour due to political turmoil there which disrupted transport and led to widespread strikes.

I hadn’t been able to tell you why I was due in Haiti. Now I can. It was to witness my friend Olivier Bottrie (above), The Estée Lauder Companies Travel Retail Worldwide President, being appointed to the French National Order of Merit.

The National Order of Merit is France’s second-highest award after the Légion d’honneur. It is not bestowed lightly. Previous recipients include Charles de Gaulle, François Mitterrand, Jacques Cousteau, Gérard Depardieu and other luminaries recognised for outstanding civil or military achievements.

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Olivier was honoured for his philanthropic achievements following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010. He was the driving force behind the creation of Hand in Hand for Haiti, a travel retail industry-led charity that plotted, opened (pictured below) and runs a non-profit free school, the Lycée Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable in the town of Saint Marc.

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olivier ddf sign[Dubai Duty Free was one of the most generous donors, the lead funder on a world-class sporting complex]

The philosophy was simple. The reconstruction of a country, the reclaiming of hope, had to start with the young. And it had to start with education.

The national statistics prior to the earthquake were dismal (they’re not much better now) – 203rd out of 228 ranking in the world for GDP per capita; 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty; formal education rates and literacy among the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only 20% of eligible age children reach secondary school. All this a collective and disgraceful tarnish on our world from a country just 700 miles or 90 minutes from Miami.

All of those appalling shortcomings were rendered more acute by the tragedy of 12 January  2010, which wrecked infrastructure, killed or injured hundreds of teachers, and displaced 50% to 90% of students, depending on location. Just look again, if you can, at the horror of the pictures below, and you will see what a journey this has been.

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haiti wreckage school

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I still remember my first contact with Olivier after the earthquake. I e-mailed him to check on his Haitian wife Alexandra and her family and friends. He called me and asked if I thought the travel retail industry would help the people of Haiti in any way. I said I would discuss it with then-DFS Group Chairman & CEO Ed Brennan (who along with Olivier would become the other great leader of this remarkable initiative). Ed’s (and DFS’s) commitment was immediate and total. The rest, as they say, is history.

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This week’s news brings back powerful and poignant memories. Together with Olivier, Ed and some great local supporters, I visited Haiti in March 2010, a trip I will never forget, documented each day on this Blog in writing I still look back fondly on. That early information gathering and scouting mission led to a location for the school being found, a huge wave of industry support being generated and a lasting monument to the travel retail community’s innate humanity being created.

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[March 2010 and Olivier Bottrie, Ed Brennan and Martin Moodie get a little help from on high during their scouting mission for a school site]

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[Handing out aid and meeting the kids of Port-au-Prince’s infamous shanty town Cité Soleil]

“The Lycée Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable is an extraordinary and successful project,” stated French Ambassador to Haiti Patrick Nicoloso this week. “Olivier Bottrie’s energy and commitment to it are exemplary. He fully deserves the recognition of France and this is why we are proud to reward him with the National order of merit medal.”

Vanessa Matignon, Haiti Ambassador to France, added: “Today, we are more than happy to welcome and thank Olivier for his commitment to our homeland.”

As I said, I know Olivier well. He is a proud, uncompromising man. He is also an emotional one. He will have shed a tear yesterday, not just for the achievement but for the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their lives on that terrible January day.

Olivier simply makes things happen. You will have no idea how difficult this project has been. He can rub people up the wrong way with his determination to do things in the way he thinks they should be done. He will not let anything get in his way. But if he has been obsessed by this project then it is a glorious obsession indeed.

You will forgive me if I repeat my words from my original comment following yesterday’s story. They bear repetition and I doubt anyway that I can better them with rephrasing.

From the very beginning Olivier’s commitment to the Lycée Jean Baptiste Point du Sable and to the people of Haiti has been nothing short of epic, his passion for the project inspiring and humbling. He broke down industry scepticism and sometimes downright negativity through an irresistible, almost obsessive desire to make it happen, to win the right hearts and to show that regeneration of a ravaged people begins with the young and with education. 

Olivier would not take no for an answer, he would not be deterred by the naysayers nor the many obstacles that were placed in the project’s way. He did not accept that because the overwhelming majority of Haitians are conditioned to hardship they did not deserve better. He did not stand back (as I wrote in my Blog at the time) and allow this deprivation, accentuated by natural disaster, to be perpetuated. Unlike so many he did not allow his sense of humanity to be compromised by preconceptions and prejudices that aid to Haiti would be wasted aid. Through grit and an unrelenting will, he made this wondrous project happen.

We should all be proud to have a man such as this in our industry.

I am still cursing how circumstances conspired against me being with Olivier this week. Thanks to my illness that struck three months after my visit to Haiti, I never did get to see the school as it was being built nor when it opened. And though I didn’t see it this week either, I will finally visit with Olivier in April, to when I have transferred my ticket.

I cannot wait to see the world-class, free kindergarten-through-secondary educational complex. I cannot wait to see the smiles on the faces of the kids. And, most of all, I cannot wait to personally thank the man who, more than anyone else, made it all happen.

Olivier kids

2 Responses to “Recognising Olivier’s glorious obsession”

  1. Jason Cao says:

    Congratulations to Olivier! To Martin and Ed also. I still remember the difficult time of Olivier searching water for the school…Commitment behind the project is very much respectful, huge energy and effort was invested on the project. Today, I am sure all the people from travel retail industry are proud of the achievement of Olivier, Martin, Ed.

    Cheers for the kids there!
    Jason from Shanghai.

  2. paul topping says:

    Fantastic effort and energy delivered with passion and real care . Congatulations to Olivier and all the team . paul

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leena and me

Bad news and good news. My trip to Haiti this week for a visit to the Hand in Hand for Haiti school, Lycée Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable, has been postponed at the last minute due to some unrest in the Caribbean nation.

I’m disappointed as it would have been my first chance to see the school since it opened in October 2011, and my first visit to Haiti since that initial scouting mission way back in March 2010, just after the January earthquake. I was due in Haiti not just to see the school but for a very important reason that I will tell you about during the week.

The good news is that I’ve got a week to recover from a nasty chest infection that has laid me low on my recent travels before I hit the flightpaths again at the weekend. Road warrior? I feel like road kill. Sometimes you have to listen to your body and I don’t need a stethoscope to hear what mine’s saying.

Feeling grumpy and weak, I flew out of Dubai a couple of days back in the wee small hours of the morning and was cheered up immediately when I saw my friend and colleague Colleen Morgan’s new book Throw me a Smile prominently displayed at Dubai Duty Free.

As mentioned, the book relates the tough but ultimately triumphant battle of Colleen’s daughter Lucy (and her family) against a rare form of cancer that struck when she was seven (she’s now 20 and a healthy young woman).

leena display

You can buy it at Dubai Duty Free or on Amazon. A percentage of proceeds is being donated to Elpida, the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer (www.elpida.org)

I’m grateful to Dubai Duty Free for supporting Colleen so I duly bought a copy. I was served by Leena, a delightful sales assistant from Mumbai. Impressively, Leena knew all about the book that was on display. “It’s a very good book; very sad but very inspirational Sir,” she told me. In short, she’d bothered to find out about what she was selling.

As you can see, Leena has a smile that could light up not only Mumbai but the whole of the United Arab Emirates, nicely appropriate given the title of what she was selling me. Yet another human example of how well Dubai Duty Free trains its people. Yet another example of the power of a smile.

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budape 2b view

Excuse the gap between Blogs but being struck down with a chest infection while on the road is a pretty effective deterrent to creative inspiration.

All of us in this industry who travel a lot know that horrible feeling of being a long way from home when illness strikes and it’s certainly one that puts the so-called glamour of this lifestyle in perspective.

Never mind, I’m steadily getting back in shape, necessarily so as post quickfire trips to Budapest and Dubai I’m getting ready for an exciting return to Haiti (the subject of, I think, my favourite-ever Blogs back in 2010) next week.  More of that in coming days.

I have to say that Budapest Airport’s SkyCourt (above), opened in 2012 and linking terminals 2a and 2b, is one of the most impressive terminal and commercial developments I have seen in recent years (by the way,  when I arrived at the airport for my departure I had to check which terminal I was flying out of. “2b or not 2b? That is the question,” I said to myself. Ok then, I just made that story up but I’ve always wanted to quote Shakespeare in this Blog.)

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[With Budapest Airport Head of Marketing & Innovation Andrea Trencsén and Head of Retail & Advertising Patrick Bohl in the exciting SkyCourt]

When it opened, the 24,000sq m SkyCourt project increased the capacity of T2 from 5 million a year to 8.5 million passengers a year. And from the start, commercial activities were integral to the new facility, which initially featured some 39 units spread over 4,300sq m of retail and food & beverage space, roughly double that on offer previously.

It’s not just about space though, the focus here is very much on quality and diversity, as I discovered during a highly informative tour with Budapest Airport Head of Marketing & Innovation Andrea Trencsén and Head of Retail & Advertising Patrick Bohl before I flew back to London.

There’s a wonderful sense of space and (natural) light here, enhanced by the glass walls that front onto the apron, the high ceilings, and the broad walkways that allow easy access to seating, bars and retail.

You can read my full impressions, together with interviews with Chief Commercial Officer Kam Jandu and Heinemann Hungary Managing Director Fritz Janach soon online but let me give you a little taster of the airport’s impressive commercial offer via the pictures and comments below.

I love the walk-through Heinemann Duty Free shop, bright, varied, nicely balanced between international and local (with an outstanding representation of the latter), with a lovely sense of space and place (great focus on Hungarian products). First class. There’s also a nice mix of specialist stores from the upscale (Ralph Lauren, Montblanc and Hugo Boss) to better than average destination merchandise shops.

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The SSP-led food & beverage offer (mainly located on the mezzanine level) is very good indeed. Sorry, the picturea taken on the run below really don’t do it justice but the Food Court gets it just right. Upper Crust may be a ubiquitous brand but that’s probably explained by the fact that it’s a very good one. The food looks fresh, is fresh. Looks good, is good.

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I bought a couple of good Hungarian wines in the commendable Hungarigum fine wine & food store, served with great knowledge, speed (I was headed for my gate) and pleasantness by Zoltan Gycrki (pictured below). He pointed me to a great Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos and an excellent bone-dry Riesling that didn’t last beyond my dinner that evening.

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Budapest 2b hungarigum ext

Kam Jandu and his team have been responsible for some of the industry’s best Trinity promotions (pictured below) of recent years – true tri-partite partnerships, for once led by the airport. This is no passive landlord but an airport company that believes if its partners win, it wins. Look out for my feature, coming soon. You’ll find it, like Terminal 2b, a breath of fresh air.

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As Interim Moodie Report Bureaus go, this one may rank as one of the most wintry. Hard to think that just a week ago I was gazing out over crystal clear Caribbean waters in the Bahamas.

Now I’m looking out the window from my room at the Airport Hotel Budapest. It’s 1 degree outside and the snow is coming down. Pretty, oh so pretty. Cold, oh so cold.

I’m here to attend the Budapest Airport Awards, to be held tonight before an audience of around 300 guests including airport executives, business partners (aviation and non-aviation), government officials, local press and yours truly as the sole representative of the travel retail media.

It’s an honour to be here as Budapest Airport (pictured below in its winter cloak) recognises the contributions of its partners in 2014, the airport’s biggest retail marketing year ever, and a hugely successful one in terms of various Trinity campaigns and promotions, as well as award nominations.

With that success in mind the airport has this year expanded its annual Aviation Awards to now include retail and landside partners, renaming them the Budapest Airport Annual Awards.

The event will be held tonight in the Terminal 1 Event Center, formerly of course a thriving air terminal. That was before 2012 and the fateful collapse of national carrier Malev.

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How the airport company and its concessionaires (particularly its key partner Gebr Heinemann) have responded since is, I think, a definitive case study on how to respond to crisis. And arguably the term crisis is an understatement. Today I interviewed Budapest Airport Chief Commercial Officer Kam Jandu and Heinemann Hungary Managing Director Fritz Janach and listened with fascination as they told me about that day, around three years ago, when overnight the airport lost about 40% of its passenger base (including most of the big retail spenders, the transit travellers) as Malev was grounded.

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Faced by commercial disaster at both airport shareholder and concessionaire level, Budapest Airport realised the key to survival lay in a rare combination of prudence (costs had to be shed) and creativity. A new concession structure was struck with Heinemann (including a risk/reward-driven profit share component to the airport and an extended agreement until 2025) and a concerted promotional campaign to drive commercial revenues put in place.

Whereas so many airports have talked the talk on the Trinity concept, Budapest Airport has walked it. Last year they and Heinemann ran about 15 ‘Trinity Promotions’ (the airport’s term, not mine) driving around 1 million Euros in sales, of which – listen to this – about 40% was incremental. Those perennial naysayers who say ‘Trinity doesn’t work’ should visit Budapest.

The airport offered significant concourse space free of charge, manpower, communication (heavy social and digital media support, airport signage), marketing expertise and, most of all, total commitment. The results speak for themselves.

Equally impressively, most of those promotions drove awareness and sales of Hungarian products, a strong focus for airport and concessionaire. Expect more of the same this year, with some international brands involved too. I’ll bring you the full story soon but first I have an awards dinner to attend. If I can make it through the snow.

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Friday: It feels like a scene out of Groundhog Day. Suddenly I’m back at Miami International Airport, filling in a five-hour gap before my flight home to London.

Straight off the 30 minute flight from Nassau (goodbye beautiful Bahamas) and there’s the same rather disappointing Bacardi Mojito bar that I saw a few days back, the same Islander Bar & Grill where I first tried Conch Fritters (to be left in the shade by those I discovered in Nassau) and the pretty desolate atmosphere of the end-gates at Miami International.

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After a quick ride on the excellent intra-airport train, I’ve jumped off early to fill a five-hour wait for my Heathrow connection at the American Airlines-run Admiral’s Club lounge. This would, shall we say, not rank as one of the finer airport lounges in the world. And in saying that I am being polite, only because the staff, Carlos and Melissa, try so hard.

I only wish Travel Food Services and Performa (Gate Gourmet), which together run the common usage lounge at Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport’s new Terminal 2, which I wrote about in a recent Blog, could take over this operation. They would revolutionise the (currently non-existent) customer experience.

Whereas my Admiral’s Lounge experience starts like this:

“I’ll have a beer please, Samuel Adams [the name of the beer not the bartender].”

“Certainly Sir.” Melissa [definitely not a Samuel] pours me a draught beer.

“That’ll be US$7 please.”

“Really? I have to pay? In the lounge? But I’m flying Business Class on your airline.”

“Yes, the Bud Light is complimentary Sir but you have to pay for the other beers.”

The Bud may be but I don’t feel too complimentary. I’m not sure why that information was not supplied before I ordered the beer but decide not to grizzle as Melissa is friendly, fast and no doubt doing a tough job. But that doesn’t make the practice right. I go and find a quiet spot in one of airport world’s more disheartening lounges. The WiFi doesn’t work. Other passengers are making the same complaint. I move to several different locations. No luck. What was that I said in my keynote speech at the OTG conference a day earlier about the glamour of travel?

Demoralised I go back to the bar where Melissa is doing her best to maintain her equilibrium in the face of some ignorant boors from the Midwest. Before I order, I ask Carlos about the wine offering. He volunteers that the house wine, a Trinity Oaks Californian Chardonnay, is free – everything else is chargeable. Better.

Trinity oaks

I’m not in the mood for Chardonnay but I decide to try it, drawn of course by its name. Heck, maybe I’ll drink too many and end up conducting my own Trinity Forum, interviewing my fellow passengers live at an airport bar. Some say I talk to the trees anyway.

Actually the wine’s ok, though its sweet woodiness certainly lives up to the Trinity Oaks billing. I reckon at least three giant sequoias have gone into this one.

I order a Cheese Quesadilla (below), served with sour cream, pico de gallo and a mountain full of tri-coloured tortilla chips. It’s tasty but just too much. America is in the grip of an obesity epidemic (you think I exaggerate? Then try this super-sized portion of information: Obesity rates have more than doubled in America adults and children since the 1970s and over two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese) but doesn’t appear to realise that the size of its restaurant servings is a major contributor.

Quess

I watch a very large woman from Wisconsin (I overhear her phone conversation) munching on a healthy salad. Or it would be a healthy salad if the plate didn’t contain enough to feed a family of four. Make that eight. She finishes the lot.

I turn my attentions instead to food & drink of a different, better kind, and reflect on a brilliant few days at the OTG meeting in Nassau. It culminated at a gala dinner on Thursday night where many of the reasons for OTG’s spectacular rise over the past two decades were there for all to see.

Founder & CEO Rick Blatstein is a class act. He’s a showman but at the same time a pragmatist, an astute businessman and, above all, an innovator. Every major airport in the world could do with a Rick Blatstein-run food & beverage (or even retail) outlet. He and OTG bring innovation, energy and sheer (in the good sense) chutzpah.

OTG rick

At the dinner  (above) he roamed the room, singling out various OTG crew members from around North America and presenting them with gifts for epitomising the OTG spirit. It was inspirational and in an odd way moving. His children, Justin and Samantha (below), both heavily involved in the business, also spoke – a chip and chipette off the old block respectively. Both got it just right – Justin supercharged, pumped, driven; Samantha buoyant, ebullient, infectiously enthusiastic.

OTG Samantha and Justin

People may think otherwise but it’s actually not easy for kids to come into a business, let alone advance to senior roles. Respect is hard-won – and should be. As their proud father noted in introducing and thanking them, the two Blatstein offspring have truly earned their place in the company, a company incidentally that has in the space of a few years (OTG opened its first airport concession in 1994) moved from a kind of cheeky maverick newcomer status to a major force within (and influence on) the North American airport food & beverage scene.

Family companies at such points of transformation – from small to large; from tolerated newcomer to serious rival – can go in several directions. Some sell (often with fatal consequences); some struggle with their new-found status and lose hold of the very values that got them to where they were in the first place; and some seem to know exactly when and how to manage the growth process, resourcing properly and not trying to hit every target out there.

OTG strikes me as such a player.  US business writer Jim Collins wrote an acclaimed book about successful company transitions called ‘Good to Great’. It addresses a single question: can a good company become a great company, and if so, how? Rick Blatstein uses the phrase ‘Good to Great’ a lot. As he does the term ‘OTG Experience’. Put the two together and what do you get? A great OTG experience. And that is increasingly what the house that Rick built is delivering.

noodle bar

[OTG's amazing new Ramen bar Kaedama by Shoushin Yanaur, planned in conjunction with United Airlines at Newark Liberty Terminal C]

OTG experience

Footnote, Tuesday: What a wonderful shop the Britto store (below) is at Miami International Airport. It features the work of Romero Britto, the world-renowned, Brazilian artist whose artwork has been displayed around the globe, in museums, on cars and on (Absolut) vodka bottles. The store offers prints, souvenirs, clothes and other collectibles featuring Britto’s artistic creations at popular prices. I just love the brilliant colours, the zest, the exuberance, the sheer… joy of Britto. I bought several items and on a bleak London morning as I finish this Blog, just looking at them is cheering me up entirely.

britto_1

britto_2

dfa

The Duty Free Americas store was also pretty good but if you wonder why airport food generally has a low place in public affection  then signs like the one below might explain it. It reads: “Airport good food… three words you don’t often see together.” It’s positioned outside La Carreta Cuban Kitchen (below) and besides the fact that I wouldn’t say the food looks spectacularly good to me (nor the décor), I really do question why an airport restaurateur would perpetuate a long-time negative stereotype about food & beverage.

airport_good_food_to_go

airport_good_food

airport_food_sign

airport_food_really

airport_food_really_2

In fairness the outlet has been rated highly by Conde Naste Traveller but so have many other airport restaurants. So let’s not go singling ourselves out for glory while damning our competitors and the reputation of the sector, ok?

In my keynote speech at the OTG conference last week, I criticised how airports and their restaurateurs often communicate with passengers, notably in terms of signage that is anything but appetising. I include some examples below, the top two from Hong Kong International Airport pointing to an SSP Food Court, in which I can’t tell if the man with the chopsticks and rice is eating or throwing up (but I sure as heck know that it doesn’t make me hungry) and the others are from Nathan’s at Miami International Airport.

Rice_sign_MM

HKIA bad sign 1

I talked about the obesity issue (now a major problem in the UK as well). I just wonder when the day will arrive that the food & beverage sector may have to play its role in countering the problem? It surely won’t with signs like these. I’m sure the meals are popular and hey the super-sized burger below looks tasty. But it’s just so big. Restaurateurs will respond that they are just catering to (lots of) public taste, that travellers will complain if servings are less. They may be right.

nathan_2

nathans

Oh dear. Already I’m missing the fresh simplicity of the Nassau street food, served from shacks on the waterfront (below). And I’m missing little Nassau Airport, a tidy and efficient facility with the marvellously reassuring sign in the middle of the airside concourse that “the farthest gate is only three minutes away”. Oh for a simpler, less super-sized world.

furtherst_gate

Nassau food 1

Nassau food 2

Nassau food final

bahamas

 

One Response to “Good to great with OTG but less than Admiral-able in Miami”

  1. John Garner says:

    Hi Martin,

    Right on point as always…. MIA really take the pleasure out of travel.. Next time call me and I will take you for a decent lunch having pre checked you in. See you soon

    John

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OTG judging panel

If you think the contestants on TV’s MasterChef are under pressure, you want to attend the OTG ‘Iron Chef’ competition at the airport restaurateur’s annual Business Partner Trade Show (currently on in Nassau, the Bahamas, and to which I gave the keynote address at the day one conference).

Like the American television series of the same name, OTG’s twist on the Iron Chef theme involves a cook-off under time pressure. But whereas the TV version involves two chefs going head-to-head over one hour, this one was fought out between teams from OTG’s various airport restaurants, who had just 15 minutes to select their ingredients (including a secret component, pork loin, hidden from view till the last second), decide on their dish, cook it and present it plated to the four-person judging panel. Not only that, they also had to produce a world-class burger in the same time frame.

“No pressure then,” as OTG Founder & CEO Rick Blatstein told them.

OTG reveal

[Gird your loins: As the chefs and guests look on, the ingredients are shown on the table with the secret component, pork loin, still hidden]

I was privileged to be one of the judges – surely the only foodie judge in the world expected to sample six culinary concoctions and six burgers in around five minutes frenzied assessment time who doesn’t have a stomach…

OTG ready set cook

[Grab and go: 15 minutes and counting...]

“Eat slowly,” my doctors told me after my operation in 2010. For a few minutes in culinary wonderland I had to dispense with that advice, sampling each and every delight while judging them on criteria such as presentation, taste and creativity.

While all this cooking and tasting was going on, four OTG mixologists were shaking (and stirring) things up  in the simultaneous ‘Iron Bartender’ competition, where once more they had to use a secret ingredient.

OTG cocktail

OTG cocktail 2

Once the chefs and mixologists were under starting orders, all hell broke loose, beginning with a rush to the ingredients (ranging from Yucca to Vermont chocolate for the dishes; agave to Bourbon for the cocktails) and then the beginning of the great creative process.

Watching the six cooking teams squeezed on to the stage, I remarked to Rick Blatstein that it must be difficult working in such space constraints. “No, this is the biggest kitchen space they’ll ever work in!” he replied, reminding me of the very real physical limits on cooking in most airport restaurants.

OTG newark

OTG better pan

What followed was an exemplary example of team work. I got up real close and personal with all six teams, taking in the marvellous aromas, watching in wonder the skill and flair of a series of individuals who all worked in perfect, mostly silent, harmony, sometimes with the odd joke piercing the pressure bubble. “Five minutes to go Chefs!” barked the compere. This was pressure cooker stuff, made all the more intense by being watched in an open kitchen by a big crowd of enthralled guests.

OTG NY

OTG team moore

OTG team dca

The results were a thing of wonder. There’s a whole lot of creativity, class and commitment out there in the OTG network. Little wonder that the company has taken the airport foodie world by storm in recent years with its commitment to innovation, investment and new technology. Team McCormick from Washington DCA was judged the ultimate winner for a brilliantly presented, glorious tasting main dish and a burger that just melted in the mouth. But it was a close-run thing and any one of the offers would have graced any high-quality downtown restaurant.

OTG macmurarry 3

I chose a light, jammy MacMurray Pinot Noir (owned by Gallo) from the Russian River Valley to accompany the dishes (perfect with the pork and a good Pinot always works with a rare to medium-rare burger). But just a sip or two into it, I was forced to change choice of tipple as four incredibly varied (one’s glass was presented in a sock) technicolour cocktails were presented to me. Another (pictured below) even came in a single steel container with a straw for each judge and an accompanying iPhone so that the judges could order another  (OTG is the pioneer of using iPads in gate rooms to order meals for delivery).

OTG great cocktail

The winning cocktail (below) from a young mixologist wunderkind called Theo Lieberman contained agave and grated cinnamon and rates as one of the best cocktails I have tried in years.

OTG winning cocktail

OTG barman

OTG with winning chefs

[Cooking up a storm: With the winning chefs]

Like a top-class cocktail, my working life as a travel retail Publisher has many elements. Yesterday here they all came together to perfection, leaving me stirred not shaken, alive to the magic power of possibility. In the evening I dined at the wonderfully named Poop Deck in Nassau, where I dined out on the balcony (tasted a bit woody, frankly) and ate the biggest, best-cooked snapper (reminds me of an joke about Hannibal Lector eating a photographer but let’s not go there) of my life, washed down with a glass or three of chilled KWV Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa – an irresistible combination. Life simply doesn’t get much better.

Well… hold on… take a look below at the view from The Moodie Report Interim Nassau Bureau. Correction. Life just did.

dinner

P1010475

OTG arm meeting

[Digital signage: There were plenty of other events going on yesterday at the Atlantis Royal. Deciding I might be too squeamish for the American Association for Hand Surgery's 'joint meeting', I  headed instead for the OTG show, which was handy enough]

OTG sign

 

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