Blowing up a real storm in Hong Kong and a Virtual one at the Travel Retail Expo

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

8a.m. at my new and very Interim Moodie Davitt Hong Kong Bureau and all is well in my world. I’ve temporarily moved a few hundred metres along the Victoria Harbour waterfront in Kowloon to the Intercontinental Grand Stamford for the remaining days of our Virtual Travel Retail Expo, which concludes Friday.

The reason? Simple. If you’re going to host live interviews and presentations at a global event of the ambition of this one, you need stable internet. Which was not the case at my apartment, especially once signal 8 typhoon Nangka struck Hong Kong yesterday. A no-risk policy was called for.

Nangka has eased a lot now but behind me the waves on the usually placid Victoria Harbour are whipping up large curled white tufts all the way across to Hong Kong Island. What a powerful sight and what a wonderous place Hong Kong is.

Despite the early hour, our Virtual Travel Expo is in full swing and already over 200 people are out there on the exhibition floor, a number that will grow five or six-fold through the day. That’s because, of course, it’s not an early hour anymore in, say, New Zealand or Australia or Hawaii (where it’s still yesterday afternoon). Our event is truly international, running across a 24-hour time zone, and open to any industry executive, manager or staff member in any country.

As we stretch into our third day, I’m hugely encouraged by the reaction to date. I think many feared either an overly complex, soulless experience or the ‘computer game’ ambience that a rival had cheaply claimed that we would represent.

We’re neither, of course, as our many world-class partners knew all along. The focus is on an easily navigable and immersive virtual world that allows our exhibitors to deploy the wonders of digital technology to showcase their offers and to talk to existing and potential business partners.

It’s been wonderful to watch that happen, and personally to chat with some of the leading Chinese retailers in their own language (the Expo platform offers simultaneous, high-quality translation in the chat rooms), similarly so with the teams from Lotte and Shilla in South Korea.

This, believe it or not, is an Expo stand. Bravo Harding, which having been through such stormy waters this year, to retain the imagination to come up with an activation as ambitious as this.
Every new innovation needs early believers. Severino Pušić’s SEVA Group was just that. And the house that Severino built has delivered an emphatic statement of intent at the Expo, its Diamond Partner status underpinning the company’s ambition to be a top 20 travel retailer within five years. Severino and his top man in the Middle East, Roger Jackson, have been outstanding supporters of this event, the first partner to sign up even when the Expo was just a tentative notion.

Then there are the live interviews, always of course conducted wearing my ‘Zoom suit’. Maybe I shouldn’t confess this but while looking very tidy on screen while interviewing Lagardère Travel Retail Chairman and CEO Dag Rasmussen (what a top-class mind he has) last night at his Paris HQ, hidden from sight (fortunately) I was also in shorts and flip flops.

As the week goes by, we’re getting more and more confident with the technology and as a result the sessions are becoming more conversational in tone and are better for it.

Hong Kong calling Paris: In my Zoom suit talking to Dag Rasmussen

Conceiving an event on this scale is one thing, turning it into reality (virtual reality as it were) is quite another. I am so excited and proud to see how well it’s working; to see the class of the digital curations by our exhibitors and our technical partner FILTR; to observe so many unique visitors to both the Exhibition Hub and the Knowledge Hub; and to read so many positive comments on social media.

A perfect message for our times from Beam Suntory, a company which showed its belief in our initiative from early on, inspiring other drinks companies to come onboard. Thank you Ed Stening and all the great Beam Suntory team.

If you are a retailer or airport, please try to visit as many of our exhibitor partners as possible. They invested in this event at a time when a single dollar of investment is difficult to make.

I will never forget the level of personal support nor company support that I and we have benefited from in hosting this event. We were determined this would be a defining digital experience for our industry and although there were many sceptics in the build-up, reaction to date tells us we are on the right path. Even typhoon Nangka can’t blow us off course.

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