Catching up with travel retail TRI-PODs, Kiwis and Kreols in Dubai

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

My hugely enjoyable stay in Dubai is nearing an end. Next stop Zürich. But I’m going out in style following several memorable catch-ups with some of my favourite people in travel retail.

On Friday night, I dined at Armani/Amal, a superb Indian restaurant in the Armani Hotel offering expansive views over the Dubai Fountain and the Downtown Dubai neighbourhood.

My hosts were Lal Arakulath, Founder and CEO of Kreol Group and his son Kreol (I guess you can deduce the origin of the company’s name). As I’ve mentioned before on this Blog, Lal’s story is about as inspirational as it gets if you’re talking  entrepreneurial journeys.

Today, Kreol Group spans travel retail distribution across the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Africa. It also distributes food, apparel and footwear across Arabian Gulf domestic markets and is part of a joint venture with Dufry in Alpha Kreol India, which operates Cochin Duty Free on a management contract basis in Lal’s native Kerala.

Lal would 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. – The Moodie Blog, May 2022

Lal is the archetypal self-made man, who came here from India in the late 1970s and worked his way up from the most menial of jobs (including cleaning toilets) to create and build a powerhouse business. I fondly call him King Kreol and if that’s the case then his son must be Prince Kreol, a modest and quietly spoken young man who is contributing enormously to a business that is held in high regard by all who deal with it.

One of those people is Jacqui Davies, Commercial & Business Development Director at Lagardère Travel Retail and our fourth dinner companion on Friday night. I’ve also related Jacqui’s story, or at least part of it, in a previous Blog.

Jacqui is a fellow Kiwi, a woman of redoubtable fortitude and integrity. She has had to face personal tragedy – she lost her beloved husband Bradley to cancer at just 57 years old seven years ago – and somehow find her way again in life and business. She’s done precisely that. Partly, I think, because her heart is bigger than New Zealand’s North (her origins) and South (mine) combined. As with most Kiwis, what you see is what you get. And what you get in this case is a remarkable human being.

Jacqui spends much of her time in Saudi Arabia leading Lagardère Travel Retail’s burgeoning business there. In fact she’d just flown back from the Kingdom the night before our dinner, having  helped Lagardère Travel Retail snap up an exclusive master concession at Madinah Prince Mohammed Bin Abdul Aziz International Airport.

The 14-outlet, 1,900sq m contract includes a 614sq m Aelia Duty Free operation and a selection of offerings across Relay, travel accessories, destination merchandise and snacking. An important gain in a fast-growing market. Given Jacqui and Lagardère Travel Retail’s commitment to and belief in the country, I suspect it won’t be the last.

On Friday, I met Roger Jackson, Managing Director of Organico Solutions and Organico Travel Retail (The SEVA Group) in Dubai. Besides running a very strong wines & spirits business, Organico Solutions is also the official travel retail distributor across the Middle East & Africa for the world’s leading luggage player Samsonite, including its US brand American Tourister.

Roger spent over 13 years at Diageo and knows the intricacies of the travel retail and drinks sector just about as well as anyone you will meet.

That insight has proven a huge boon for our joint video podcast series, TRI-POD, which Roger and I jointly host under The SEVA Group sponsorship.

Over a pleasant lunch in the Dubai Duty Free-run Irish Village, we renewed that agreement for a further year, and I look forward to getting to know more fascinating guests on the show. Perhaps inevitably Roger and I bade farewell to each other with a wave and a “See you next week”, our TRI-POD sign-off.

{Click on the YouTube icon to watch the TRI-POD episode featuring Jacqui Davies}

Last night I dined again with Jacqui, this time at the fabulous Clay on Bluewaters Island. The restaurant dubs its offer as a ‘Japanese-Peruvian cuisine melting hearts across the globe’ and it certainly melted mine. Naturally, given our joint Kiwi heritage, all washed down with a fine bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, in this case from Kim Crawford.

Clay is a must stop for anyone visiting Dubai, not least for the opportunity to catch the sheer contemporary wonder of Bluewaters Island, a stunning lifestyle destination featuring a dazzling array of residential, retail, hospitality, and entertainment offerings. It is also home to Ain Dubai, the world’s largest observation wheel.

Jacqui and I compared our life journeys from New Zealand to where we are today. Two flying Kiwis whose very different paths took us into a sector – and an international community – that we both love and would be reluctant to leave. Journeys from the bottom of the earth that have, we hope, a long way to run yet.

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  • How Jacqui has has transformed her own life since leaving behind her young family in NZ . In particular it’s interesting to know about her many new friendships that started in Saudi. In between working so hard she’s managed taking trips with within Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Spain all whilst being a single women. Jacqui let’s do a podcast on your social life and friendships as you seem so upbeat with strong moral values about the culture and discuss in detail how you coped and kept in contact with your family being so far away.