From Massachusetts to Mexico after Dufry dominates the day

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

This Blog begins at 37,500 feet above Kennebunk, Maine. Now I am sure that is a very nice town but I am willing to bet significant amounts of money with even the proudest citizen of Kennebunk that this is the first time in history it has been written about in a Blog written from a British Airways plane.

Next point on the travelling map is Nashua. Now don’t you go telling me that you don’t know where Nashua is! New Hampshire of course. From there it’s down through Massachusetts (if you don’t know where that is, I’ll send you a free Bee Gees greatest hits album) and all the way to Central America.

What brings me this way? I’m bound for Mexico, Mexico City to be precise, where, as I write, the ASUTIL duty free conference kicks off in a few hours with the traditional Opening Cocktail.

It’s ASUTIL’s 20th anniversary conference, a fantastic achievement for the South American (and increasingly Latin American) duty free association.

I’m delighted on a number of levels to be attending this landmark event. Firstly, I was at the first ASUTIL conference way back in 1994, so it’s great to also be on hand, “still vertical” as my dear industry friend Richard Ashworth (RIP) used to say, a couple of decades later. Secondly, I’m very proud to say that The Moodie Report will be unveiling a book dedicated to the history of Latin American duty free, called ‘From the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego’.

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The book is dedicated to the memory of Desmond Begg, a great amigo and fellow journalist, who worked with me for several years at Duty-Free News International. For years, Desmond and I had planned to publish this book. When I launched The Moodie Report, the plan was that he would join me when we were sufficiently well-funded and write the book as his first project. His tragically premature death in 2002, at just 47 years of age, robbed him and me of that chance. But his spirit lives on in the tales within this book, many of which he was the first to relate.

Des, my dear, dear Des, may not have been around to write the book, but another of his amigos, The Moodie Report’s Latin America Editor Peter Dowling, has honoured his memory in magnificent style, brilliantly chronicling the evolution of duty free and travel retail across this vast region.

That evolution embraces a much longer period than we originally suspected – right back to 1930 when Motta Internacional opened its doors in Front Street, Colón, to sell duty free liquor and fragrances to cruise ships passing through the Panama Canal. It would be another 21 years before the first airport duty free shop (not just in Latin America, but in all of the Americas) was opened, at Tocumen Airport, Panama. Its creator was the legendary Don Alberto Motta, a man whose influence pervades every fabric of this book’s story.

But there are other, even more personal reasons, for my delight in attending this year’s ASUTIL conference. I’d never missed one, in fact, until 2010. That was the year I was diagnosed with stomach cancer, just a couple of months before the ASUTIL conference in 2010 in Puerto Rico, which forced me to miss the event for the first time.

As I have related before on this Blog, just after the conference, the then-ASUTIL President Paco Heredia stopped off in London to participate in the Frontier Awards judging. While he was there he left me an envelope to collect from a local hotel. At the time I had just been through a few months of chemotherapy treatment and was about to enter hospital for a gastrectomy (full stomach removal) following my stomach cancer diagnosis earlier in the year.

Inside was a ten-page folder (pictured below) full of good wishes from virtually the entire delegate base from the ASUTIL 2011 conference – retailers, suppliers, rival journalists, airport executives. The message of each was one of goodwill, love and hope. As I noted at the time, to be offered the support of Dufry’s entire Brazilian and Bolivian teams – “all 2,000 of us” – was just about the best tonic anyone can get.

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The following year, as continued my recovery, ASUTIL asked me to do a live video link-up, offering me the opportunity to say thank you for the previous year’s gesture. That, in fact, was a ruse – in fact I was being honoured with ASUTIL’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award. It was one of the proudest and most emotional moments of my life.

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I can never adequately repay those kindnesses, that recognition. But my god I shall raise a glass or three this year in Mexico City to the great, great men and women of ASUTIL and its conferences down the years. It’s my return to ASUTIL after four long years away and I’m very pleased to be back.

In truth I’m flying in to Mexico a little later than planned. The Opening Cocktail will be well under way by the time I land but I guarantee I will see out the night in style with some long-time amigos.

Why the delay? Well, there is a certain member of ASUTIL called Dufry, which you may have noticed has been in the news over the past 48 hours. Well, let’s be more specific, Dufry HAS BEEN the news. Its acquisition yesterday of The Nuance Group completely transforms the travel retail landscape, creating a new industry supergroup that ranks far away as the leader in turnover terms.

I have closely tracked the incredible evolution of Dufry – the reincarnation of the former Weitnauer – since 2002 when private equity group Advent took a majority stake and Julian Diaz stepped in as CEO.

In announcing the acquisition of Nuance, Julian used the word ‘transformative’, both for Dufry and the industry. He’s right of course, but the truth is that he’s been transforming his company and the travel retail channel ever since he assumed the role. Let’s face it, Weitnauer (the former version of Dufry) was a solid but marginal player among the industry’s heavyweights at the time of Diaz’s arrival, a company steeped as much in the wholesale business (and all that came with it) as the retail trade.

Fast forward 12 years and what do you see. A multiple-listed public company that soon will rank as travel retail’s biggest player by a clear distance, all of its business in pure retail. Wow. That is one incredible achievement.

[A final word – to and about my team. Over the past 48 hours I think we have put together a standard and speed of coverage of the Dufry/Nuance deal that would be hard to match in any industry. That coverage has involved technical skills (Dilantha Fernando in Brisbane, Melody Ng in Singapore, Sinead Moodie in Wales and the irrepressibly brilliant Matt Willey in London); research skills (our ace Research Manager Victoria Bowskill); editorial skills (Dermot Davitt, Rebecca Mann, Gavin Lipsith, Melody Ng and Sarah Lysecki) and even the odd contribution from this old stager himself.  My internal motto for the website (and title) I cherish is ‘Never a bad day’, meaning that we can never let our coverage or standards slip. I like to think our A team pulled out their A game plan.]

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