It is with heavy heart that I close The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Moscow Bureau after four wonderful days in Russia’s exhilarating capital city.
I’ve been here for travel retailer RegStaer’s 20th anniversary celebrations and what a grand and prolonged occasion it has been.
Chairman Alexander Baev and his wife Lilia have been the kindest and most gracious of hosts, their hospitality as warm as the streets of Moscow are cold (it’s currently -10 below as I prepare to fly out).
Friday night’s 20th anniversary celebration at the Metropol Moscow Hotel was just about the party to end all parties. A 16-course dinner; a seemingly limitless supply of Cheval des Andes (red from Argentina) and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (from my country, of course); lashings of ice-cold vodka; and some of the best and most varied entertainment I have seen at a travel retail gala in my 30 years in the business, collectively made for an amazing evening.
Alexander Baev was an understandably proud man on Friday night. The Russia he launched his then small company into 20 years ago was a very different country to that of today. The path to progress was laced with challenges, notably the parlous state of the Russian economy in 1998, which saw the government and Central Bank devalue the ruble and default on the national debt.
RegStaer not only survived but thrived, so much so that it shaped as an attractive target as acquisition-hungry Dufry eyed opportunities in the region in 2011 and 2012. A proposal for Dufry to snap up a 51% stake was duly consummated and the partnership has flourished since.
Joint ventures between entrepreneurs and big corporates are notoriously tricky but this one has gone from strength to strength, in no small part due to the very close relationship with Alexander Baev and Dufry CEO Julián Díaz. That personal warmth has been there for all to see over the past few days.
I was honoured to spend some rare quality time with both gentlemen and their lovely wives Lilia and Mila these past few days. Our time included a private tour of parts of the Kremlin that most people don’t get to see and a night at the Bolshoi Theater to watch Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims, which featured the most sublime, marvellously choreographed closing scene I have ever witnessed in live theatre.
Before the Bolshoi we dined in sumptuous style with a classic Russian combination of Caviar and ice-cold vodka, both Beluga, albeit of very different kinds. Glasses were raised at rapid-fire pace and the contents downed even quicker. The toasts were to friendship and to success. Two hallmarks of the RegStaer journey to date.
During a filmed interview with Alexander Baev shown on Friday night, each section concluded with the words ‘To be continued’. That is indeed the case for a vibrant travel retail company that has style, substance and heart. The journey has been a long and successful one. But it is set to go on much further yet.