Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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- Discovering the lure of luxury at Hong Kong Airport and with Le Clos at DXB - November 25, 2022
I’ve been to Hong Kong International Airport three times in the past six days and not taken a single flight. Two of them were for PCR tests at the stark but brilliantly efficient Prenetics COVID-testing station for an at first-delayed and then cancelled overseas trip while the third was a whole lot more fun altogether.
That came last Monday when I caught up with Airport Authority Hong Kong Executive Director, Commercial Cissy Chan and General Manager Retail Portfolio Alby Tsang to get a preview not only of some exciting things to come inside the terminal but also right across the vast airport estate.
What an estate it is. ‘From City Airport to Airport City’ runs the Airport Authority Hong Kong tagline, a neat encapsulation of the hugely ambitious ecosystem that is being developed.
It’s almost two and a half years since I last saw Cissy and many months in the case of Alby. The interim periods have been traumatic for Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) in terms of passenger numbers, which for more than two long, barren years has served a shockingly small percentage of pre-pandemic volumes. To give you an idea, HKIA attracted just 1.4 million passengers in 2021 compared to a whopping 71.5 million in 2019.
With most of the airport’s shops and restaurants closed through much of the pandemic, you could be forgiven for thinking the airport’s commercial and retail teams have been in holding mode. You could not be more wrong. They have been frantically busy, not only revamping – in fact, reimagining – whole swathes of the commercial area inside the terminal but also advancing a flurry of surrounding mega developments that will redefine the airport.
I have been through HKIA several times over recent months and each time it has been a little busier, in line with eased quarantine restrictions, a welcome though far from complete transition from the eerie ghost town I witnessed in 2020 and 2021. The big breakthrough came on 26 September this year when the inbound quarantine requirement was lifted (albeit with extensive COVID-testing measures still in place), prompting a surge in demand for outbound travel by Hong Kongers anxious to make up for lost time.
The October passenger numbers will be revealing (September’s 525,000 marked a +132.7% increase year-on-year but that’s still just 10.7% of the 4.9 million served in the same month in 2019) and certainly all visual indicators (busier flight information screens, longer check-in queues, more landside and airside openings) suggest an airport coming back to form. “It’s like a child finally coming home after a long time away,” as Alby neatly put it.
As passenger traffic continues to climb, most of the stores and F&B outlets that have not yet opened will do so from early November. Even since my last departure in late September en route to Madrid and Cannes, several more key facilities have opened, including The Shilla Duty Free main store.
The splendid duplexes from Louis Vuitton (opening 1 November), Hermès (formerly single-storey) and Chanel will wow passengers, complementing a remodelled luxury zone featuring dazzling white tiling and a host of new offerings across the whole airport estate.
Airport Authority Hong Kong not only seeks to operate a top-class aviation hub. It also wants to make the airport (and the facilities around it) a landmark and destination in its own right. And it aims to be a growth engine, not just for Hong Kong but also of the Greater Bay area.
That three-fold approach underpins everything that is underway at HKIA. Over the course of a fascinating few hours with Cissy and Alby, I discovered aspects of the business I could not have imagined and marvelled at the levels of innovation and investment that have been going on behind the scenes.
The transformation from City Airport to Airport City embraces core passenger and cargo services, multi-modal regional connectivity , retail, hospitality and entertainment. “The Airport City will be a destination in itself”, says Airport Authority Hong Kong.
So there you have it. I may not have flown anywhere but I see a heck of a destination taking shape. Put it high on your travel agenda for next year. Hong Kong is coming back.