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I’ve just returned to Hong Kong having paid a visit to Venice, Paris and London and experienced Four Seasons all within one day. And all that after just an hour or so’s boat ride from Hong Kong.
It wasn’t the real Venice, Paris or London, of course, but lookalikes created within the extraordinary man-made extravaganza that is the Cotai Strip in Macau.
This was my first trip to the Special Administrative Region since 2019, just a few months before the pandemic began and which led to the sustained cessation of almost all travel between Macau and Hong Kong.
2019 feels like an epoch in travel retail history and so it was especially exciting to once again board the TurboJet from Central to Macau’s outer harbour. A short trip that I, like everyone in Hong Kong’s travel retail community, took frequently (and for granted) over many years.
Arriving in Venice
As with my last trip there, my visit was to see the latest expansion by Duty Free Americas (DFA), the US travel retail company that has enjoyed a strong presence at The Venetian Macao since August 2007. This time around I again had the pleasure of catching up with DFA CEO Jerome Falic and the company’s local Director of Operations Cecily Ho.
DFA has invested heavily in the operation, including during the pandemic, firm in the belief that business would rebound strongly once the crisis eased.
The retailer has expanded its overall space and is even set to open a TWG Tea store and tea room in partnership with the acclaimed Singaporean luxury teahouse chain and artisanal tea brand. Commendably, DFA retained all its staff throughout the pandemic, meaning it has avoided the recruitment nightmare faced by many Macau businesses.
Jerome told me that he is delighted with both the overall Venetian footfall and the level of sales in recent weeks as Mainlanders have once again been pouring into the property. You can see from my video and photos below just how busy the place was on the afternoon I visited.
It’s mainly group tour business at this stage (and generally more mature consumers) and most are day trippers intent on trying their luck in the casino. But DFA enjoys a superbly strategic location as the visitors embark from their buses and pour in through the doors near the store (split left and right on either side of the throughway to the casino) and is generating plenty of spin-off business.
Look out for my interview with Jerome in coming days, it makes for encouraging reading.
Artificial canals replete with gondolas and a false Venetian sky might not be to everyone’s taste but there is no doubting the allure for countless Chinese consumers, many of whom have never experienced the real thing in Italy. I read a review on TripAdvisor that dubbed the place “kitsch done beautifully” and I think that’s pretty fair.
Next stop the City of Light
And so to Paris. Welcome to more kitsch, also done beautifully. The Parisian Macao opened in August 2016 and is most notable for featuring a half-scale authentic recreation of the Eiffel Tower. You have to see it to believe it.
The property also offers an array of integrated resort facilities, including 3,000 guest rooms and suites, convention and meeting space, international restaurants, spa, kids’ club, health club, pool deck with themed water park, and 1,200-seat theatre. Oh yes, and shopping. A whole load of shopping in a vast zone dubbed Shoppes at Parisian.
I visited the Dufry store there, which trades as Temptation, a split-level, luxury beauty emporium. Knowing the shop was there and finding it are two different things, however. Let’s just say the wayfinding within Shoppes at Parisian at times requires the assistance of a skilled cartographer, which might explain why the store was deathly quiet. It’s a lovely environment and it was sad to see it so deserted. Hopefully that will change as visitor numbers climb in the months ahead.
Four Seasons in one day
No such problems with the sumptuous T Galleria by DFS, Macau, Four Seasons, a short walk away from Shoppes at Parisian. This store unquestionably ranks as one of the finest in the travel retail world, not just for the design, fit-out and brand range but for the impeccable quality of the front line staff. “Welcome to DFS,” said each and every member of the DFS team whom I encountered while walking the Four Seasons store and the retailer’s new shop (opened last November) in The Londoner Macao, my final stop.
Final stop London
The Londoner Macao is a vast development featuring two all-suite hotels – The Londoner Hotel and Londoner Court. It also features a Houses of Parliament façade, a Nelson’s Column and similar lookalikes for a host of London landmarks, including Shakespeare’s Hall, Crystal Palace and (of course) 10 Downing Street. I may have left London behind in July 2020 but for a moment it felt like I was back there.
Yes, the whole Macau experience is over the top and I was glad to escape the retail scene after a long, exhausting day that felt like a mini-marathon of shop visits. But if over the top brings tourists, who’s complaining? If kitsch is cute that’s just fine by me. ✈