From my original 2002 Worldwide Headquarters (the shed at the bottom of my West London garden, pictured above), to a series of interim bureaux, first in the English Lake District, secondly at Manchester Airport, and now (pictured below) at Athens International Airport. It would be hard to imagine four more sharply contrasting venues from which I’ve covered this global industry over the past few days.
I’ve spent the past few days in the very pleasant company of former Alpha Retail boss Hilary Lewis and her husband (ex-Timberland Europe chief) Richard O’Rourke at their stunning Lake District home. In a setting as idyllic as that you’re a pretty sad person if you spend much time working but, hey, that’s the cost of billing your media as “the website that never sleeps”. How did I come up with that semantic nonsense anyway?
Anyway, Lake District to Athens connections are not the easiest, so after a magnificent dinner at Askham Hall in Penrith last night (one of those places to dine before you depart this planet), I took a two-hour cab ride to Manchester Airport last night, lay my weary bones at the Radisson Blu airport hotel and just about managed the 5a.m wake-up call to catch the early bird easyjet to Athens for the opening of Hellenic Duty Free Shops’ splendidly revamped new intra-Schengen stores at the country’s major gateway.
Alas, my time in glorious Greece is confined to just one night at an airport hotel but a tour of the new retail zone yesterday afternoon and dinner with the Dufry and Hellenic management more than compensated.
I’m rushing off for a second view of the shops before flying back to London this afternoon, so I’ll let the pictures rather than my words tell the story. But let me say this, the way Hellenic Duty Free Shops has embraced the concept of Sense of Place is a lesson to the whole travel retail industry. Some 30% of products here are Greek. Not just familiar household names such as Folli Follie, Metaxa and the leading Ouzo brands (though they are all well-represented) but a compelling array of gourmet items, wines, spirits, foods and gifts. The approach was rather nicely summed up, I thought, in this line from the company’s press release on yesterday’s opening: “We sought out producers from all over the country whose products represent the wealth of the Greek earth and table.”
As the pictures show, Greece, despite the regular headlines of a different sort, remains a wealthy country indeed.