Bound for Baiju country and the spirit of China

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I’m flying over the Taklamakan Desert, heading towards the Kunlun Mountains. Taklamakan is the world’s largest shifting sand desert, stretching 1,000 kilometres long and 400 kilometres wide, over some 330,000 square metres. I may be here some time then.

I’m onboard Cathay Pacific 252 out of London Heathrow en route to Hong Kong International Airport where I’ll transit for less than two hours and fly all the way north again to Beijing. There it’s a four-hour wait before boarding a three-hour domestic flight to Zhunyi Maotai Airport, gateway to what promises to be a fascinating visit to Kweichow Moutai Co, famous for the Moutai baiju brand, so well-known in duty free through its relationship with Camus. It is the start of an 11-day trip embracing Mainland China, Hong Kong (twice), Macao and Singapore, and some compelling stories along the way.

Somewhere along my journey, I suspect I’ve flown over Gautom Menon and Paul George V, the two intrepid Wild Tiger ‘Roartrip’ explorers who, last time I heard from them, were exiting China bound for Krygstan and Kazakstan. If you’re reading this Gautom – and I know you always read this Blog as part of your daily social media diet – and you see a Cathay Pacific flight overhead, wave.

The onboard wifi has meant that I’ve worked pretty much all the way from London, polishing off a special report on the recent rebranding of KrisShop and, staying with a Singaporean theme, examining the repercussions of the bidding line-up for the Singapore Changi liquor & tobacco concession. I broke that story last Monday, a Bank Holiday in the UK, ahead of any Singaporean news media and while our travel retail rivals were having a day off.

Writing such a story is a whole lot more complex than it might appear. The next day, numerous titles “confirmed” that there were three bidders – The Shilla Duty Free, Lotte Duty Free and Gebr Heinemann. Simple really, they had my story, know that I am fanatical in my fact-checking and simply (at most) went to the various parties for confirmation of the bid.

None of the hard yards then. What about the parties that didn’t bid? Did they also check with them? What if I had got it wrong? To get a story like this right requires an enormous amount of probing, much of it sensitive and unattributable. You draw on relationships, trust, goodwill. The story took me from early Monday morning till mid-afternoon to know I had the line-up right. And then the flurry of ‘We can confirm’ stories the next day written in a few minutes, including one leading mainstream newspaper that asked me for all the key information and then ran it without attribution.

Oh well, it is what it is. Our reputation is based on a combination of accuracy, methodology, sensitivity and speed. Others can work as they wish. Readership, respect and commercial success will be the ultimate verdict.

Certainly our Changi story was one of our best-read of the past two years, DFS’s no-show a genuine shock to almost everyone, including some of the final bidding line-up. Somewhere between Golmud in the south central Qaidam basin on the Tibetan Plateau and Yushu (an autonomous prefecture of southwestern Qinghai province), I shall begin a more detailed analysis of the Changi bid and what it spells not only for the Singaporean gateway but also for airport retail in general.

No time for movies or sleep then, though I may catch a nap at the Cathay Pacific lounge at Hong Kong International Airport. I get into Maotai in China’s Guizhou province late tonight, having flown back on myself. I have a feeling I just might need a shot of Kweichow Moutai sooner than I had planned.

The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Cathay Pacific Bureau in full swing