Around the world in 80 (or so) days

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My world tour, as Dubai Airports EVP Commercial Eugene Barry (whom I had the pleasure of catching up with this week) neatly put it, continues.

I’m on day nine of an 85-day multi-country sojourn having just left my Interim Dubai Bureau for equivalents in Zürich, Dubai (again) and Riyadh, respectively, over the next four days.

Courtesy of the excellent onboard wifi, I’ve just opened my Emirates (EK) 085 Interim Bureau, as I fly over Mosul, Iraq towards Sumayl. How wonderful to be watching an inflight map once more after ten months of confinement in Hong Kong.

The past three days in Dubai will live long in my memory and they are ones that have put our title’s sobriquet ‘The website that never sleeps’ to full test. But what great sleepless moments they have been. On Wednesday night I attended a marvellous evening at The Dubai EDITION’s Jolie restaurant to celebrate a pioneering partnership between two great LVMH brands – Givenchy fragrance and Glenmorangie single malt Scotch whisky.

The two houses were celebrating the launch of a series of activations running through May exclusively with Dubai Duty Free at Dubai International Airport (DXB). The ambitious campaign is designed to jointly showcase the craft and artistry of perfume creation and whisky making – nicely themed as ‘A bridge between two savoir-faire’.

The activities centre on a key expression from each brand. The first is male fragrance Gentleman Givenchy Réserve Privée, inspired by the world of whisky.

It is complemented by the acclaimed Glenmorangie Signet single malt Scotch whisky, renowned for its mocha flavours. The Glenmorangie Company Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation Dr Bill Lumsden describes it as his attempt to bring the aroma of a cup of coffee to life in a whisky, and as his proudest single malt creation.

Having listened to a brilliant masterclass from Master Perfumer Nathalie Lorson and an exuberant presentation from Bill Lumsden on the evening, and then chatted to them both (see the podcast below) over a dram of Glenmorangie Signet (accompanied by a fine Habanos) I can testify to the quality of the respective creations and to the delightfully infectious personalities of these wonderful product evangelists.

[At The Dubai EDITION event on Wednesday night, Dr Bill Lumsden talked with me about his whisky journey in a compelling conversation graced at one point by Nathalie Lorson. Click on the icon to listen].

Enjoying a dram of Glenmorangie Signet with Dubai Duty Free Chief Operating Officer Ramesh Cidambi (left) and Givenchy Director General International Onur Aktas
Nice to catch up after 27 months since my last visit here with Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice President – Corporate Services Salah Tahlak
Nathalie Lorson takes guests through an enthralling fragrance masterclass
From one master to another. This time Dr Bill Lumsden takes to the floor to talk about how he approaches the art of whisky making, especially Glenmorangie Signet, inspired by the simple pleasure found in a cup of coffee.

The next day saw the official inauguration of the main Terminal 1 pop-up, where I had the welcome opportunity to meet and chat with Philippe Farnier, the newly appointed President and CEO Travel Retail LVMH Beauty. You can hear my podcast below.

The creation of Philippe’s role is an interesting move by the French luxury sector powerhouse, clearly indicating a desire to both step up and deliver greater group coherence to its presence in the channel.

Alliances such as this unusual marriage between two categories will surely help in delivering that ambition, a classic example of how out of the box thinking can shake things up for the better.

The same goes for Glenmorangie, of course. As Moët Hennessy Managing Director Travel Retail EMEA & Americas Donatienne de Fontaines-Guillaume put it, “We are always aiming at raising the bar.” And that is precisely what this superbly thought out project and the two great products that lie at its heart achieve.

No sooner were the Givenchy + Glenmorangie formalities over than it was time to rush over to DXB’s magnificent Terminal 3 for the inauguration of fellow LVMH fragrance house Guerlain’s debut Haute Parfumerie pop-up store in travel retail.

This is the culmination of a partnership with Dubai Duty Free, Dubai International Airport (DXB) and JCDecaux, an industry ‘Quaternity’ if you like and all the better for the commitment of four stakeholders.

I had a great chat with JCDecaux CEO Middle East & Africa Martin Sabbagh. He told me how the collaboration between advertising concessionaire, airport company and travel retailer, which began in January 2018, had broken down previous silos between the parties to the benefit of all – including the travelling consumer.

Passengers are more aware of the retail offer, while the breadth and depth of the vast JCDecaux communications footprint has seen important gains in terms of store penetration rates and average transaction values.

As for the boutique itself, well forgive me for not holding back but I think it is sublime. Heritage, artistry, innovation, engagement, exclusivity, personalisation – you name it, this “truly beautiful journey situated at the crossroads of fragrance and art”, as Guerlain nicely describes it, hits as many top notes as the myriad scents on display.

I had the delightful experience to be given a whistlestop tour of the boutique and a fragrance masterclass by Bashar Hakeem (pictured below). Bashar is a charismatic young man with a brilliant aptitude for understanding and explaining the complex world of fragrances.

He took me on a fascinating journey of olfactory and sensorial discovery, beginning by asking me about my favourite memories, smells, senses and places and then leading me through some fragrances that might evoke those associations. He presented me with a range of options and even a marked contrast just to take me out of my scented safety net.

Take a look at Bashar London on Instagram and you’ll gain appreciation of his work and his passion. Bottle his energy and you would have a magnetic 18th addition to the 17-strong L’Art & La Matière fragrance collection, the “crowning jewel of Guerlain Haute Parfumerie”.

After concluding the Guerlain coverage, I had an enjoyable catch-up with Eugene Barry from Dubai Airports. What a fantastic job he and his colleagues – led by that most admirable of CEOs Paul Griffiths – have done in keeping DXB ticking over during a long and damaging crisis.

As you will hear from the podcast below, Eugene is in upbeat mood as DXB passenger traffic picks up fast (the airport has just recorded its busiest quarter since Q1 2020) and spending outstrips it.

Patrick and Erika Doyle celebrate their landmark business anniversary

Thursday night was spent ‘screenside’ (as opposed to landside and airside) at my Interim Park Hyatt Dubai Bureau, writing up all these happenings, and picture/podcast/video editing.

Friday, though, offered another memorable occasion as I attended the 25th anniversary celebrations of International Diplomatic Supplies (IDS) at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

I had the privilege of sitting with company founder Patrick Doyle and his wife Erika, both warm and wonderfully human individuals.

Patrick founded IDS in 1997 in the spare bedroom of his South London home. In the intervening quarter century it has grown to become the world’s leading international diplomatic supply business – and one that unlike most duty free enterprises you care to name (China Duty Free Group and the various Hainan travel retailers are prominent exceptions) has actually grown during the pandemic.

Patrick is not only a highly successful businessman, he is also a remarkable and passionate philanthropist, supporting several fine children’s charities around the world and a number of other causes.

“It’s not all about making money for me,” Patrick told me in a 2020 podcast. “I want to be successful and success means you make money, but I don’t need to accumulate wealth, I want to do something with it.”

Patrick with members of his warehouse and logistics team. He bought them all tailored suits for the occasion.

Look out soon for my podcast with Patrick, conducted just as a fine evening reached its conclusion, where he restates those values with particular power and poignancy.

And last night, on the eve of my departure from Dubai, I dined with another extraordinary entrepreneur, Lal Arakulath CEO of Kreol Group.

Kreol is a Dubai-based business that operates travel retail distribution in the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Africa as well as food products, apparel and footwear across Arabian Gulf domestic markets. One of the group’s companies is Alpha Kreol India, a joint venture with Dufry, which has a management contract with Cochin Duty Free in Lal’s native Kerala.

But that’s only a tiny portion of the story. Lal, as he is universally known, is a self-made man, who came to Dubai from his native India in the late 1970s and worked his way up from the most menial of jobs (including cleaning toilets) to eventually set up his own business headquartered in Dubai.

Over dinner Lal told me how in the early days he used to watch the wealthy residents and citizens of Dubai turn up to his workplace in their swanky cars. “I would look at the cars and decide which one I would buy one day,” he said.

Not dream about. Decide. And that is precisely what he did, while also ensuring he gave back on a remarkable scale to those less fortunate than him in his native Kerala.

With Lal and his son Kreol at dinner in Dubai last night

Today I flew out of DXB T3. Not quite firing on all cylinders yet but certainly there is an encouraging buzz about the place.

Although flying out of Concourse A, I darted over to Concourse B to take some pictures of the new Louis Vuitton store before returning to do some shopping (a bottle of Hunter’s Chardonnay from New Zealand and a Millennium Millionaire ticket) and a tour of the Concourse A retail.

Who wants to be a millionaire? I do of course. I am pictured with the delightfully helpful Rojita from the Dubai Duty Free team after purchasing my ticket in the Millennium Millionaire draw.

Next stop Zürich Airport. It’s not quite Around the World in 80 days but I do feel increasingly like Phileas Fogg, the hero of the Jules Verne novel.