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I’ve been down this road before
I remember every tree
Every single blade of grass
Holds a special place for me
– I remember everything, John Prine
Haere Mai. Welcome.
Almost 36 years after I left these shores, I’m back in my hometown of Christchurch in New Zealand or Aotearoa (‘the land of the long white cloud’)
The dual English/Maori signage at Christchurch Airport offers a warm welcome to the place locals call the Garden City. That garden has experienced more than its fair share of blight over recent years, most notably through the devastating twin earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 and the atrocity of the mosque terrorist attacks in 2019.
The city and province (Canterbury) have bounced back remarkably from those terrible moments though the tragic human toll of the 2011 and 2019 events has left an inevitably painful legacy seared into the memory of Cantabrians.
These are happier days and there is an upbeat atmosphere in the city and province where I lived the first 31 years of my life. It is a very different situation down here in the South Island to the catastrophe being faced in the North Island where Cyclone Gabrielle has caused amost unimaginable damage to property, transport infrastructure and people’s lives.
All was calm as I flew across the Tasman from Sydney Airport on Saturday morning, the trip giving me another chance to look at the super new luxury precinct and Heinemann Australia’s much-enhanced beauty, fashion and accessories zone. What a great job Sydney Airport, Heinemann and the various brand partners have done in creating what is unquestionably now one of the airport world’s premier shopping destinations.
You can read my reports on our home page (with more to follow), where the pictures and videos tell the story better than I can. How very good it has been to be on location describing such quality retailing in a city, state and country that had it so very hard throughout the pandemic.
I spent quality time with Gebr. Heinemann Co-CEOs Max Heinemann and Raoul Spanger and members of the management team during the event and the after party at the Ivy. Max’s speech at the inauguration ceremony was brimming with pride and passion, while Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert was in equally ebullient form, dubbing the whole retail offer the best in the world. As I say, it’s certainly right up there.
After the formalities were over, hundreds of guests at the opening were treated to an outstanding dinner – prepared by famed chef Mike McEnearney of Kitchen by Mike, which operates both downtown and at the airport – in a marquee set up on the airfield.
The welcoming remarks were regularly punctuated by the sounds and sights of planes landing at regular intervals. But such visual and oral interruptions couldn’t have been more welcome, for they confirmed everything that events earlier in the day had suggested. After three COVID-ravaged years, travel – and with it travel retail – is roaring into life.
Culbert took guests back to November 2019, the last time Sydney Airport had hosted an event on the airfield, on that occasion to celebrate the gateway’s 100th birthday. “It was a beautiful spring evening, we had A380s rolling past, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was playing and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, it doesn’t get much better than this.’ ”
Everyone present knew what was coming next but that awareness didn’t lessen the impact. “Three months later COVID hit and I’m standing in the middle of the terminal;the place was full of military in full camo gear and health department officials in full PPR. You couldn’t hear any aircraft, the only sound was tumbleweed and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, it doesn’t get much worse than this.’ ”
COVID “totally sucked”, Culbert said, probably the pithiest and best description of the pandemic’s impact on life and business I’ve heard from an industry leader. Yeah, COVID sure did.
Heinemann Co-CEO Raoul Spanger concluded his remarks, noting, “2022 was a great year. Why? Because people wanted to be free. People want travel, people want air travel. And they also want to buy beautiful products.”
As if by provenance to prove his sentiments on the desire for travel, a giant Singapore Airlines A380 loomed magnificently behind him on the tarmac. It was coincidental but the symbolism was ripe and the choreography perfect. Travel in this wondrous part of the world is indeed back.
So Haere rā Australia, Haere Mai Aotearoa. The dark clouds have shifted, replaced by a beauteous and long white one.