Celtic rays and Camouflaged peas

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Day 59 of my world tour finds me in Dublin on a stay as whistlestop as anything that the referee blew in last Saturday’s rugby showdown between Ireland and the All Blacks in my native land of New Zealand.

Though this is just a two-night stop, current plans have me back in Ireland for a little longer a few days hence. Fortunately my return (this time to Shannon and Galway) is planned for before Saturday’s second test as if the All Blacks prevail once more – which, however, I suspect they will not – I may not be let into the country. [We’ve been having some fun with our friends at Walsh Whiskey, producer of Writers’ Tears and The Irishman, who have put up some great prizes for a predictor competition. You can be in with a chance to win by clicking here.]

I’ve been spending the past few days in Pontardawe, Wales, catching up with family. Yesterday I flew out of Cardiff Airport where, courtesy of a delayed Ryanair flight, I had the chance to study both the retail and the food & beverage offers.

The duty free store must be one of the very few Dufry airport operations that still carry the old Nuance Group branding (hands up who remembers that entity). The store, run by Dufry-owned World Duty Free, invariably reflects the hardships of the past couple of years (2021 passenger numbers were a devastating -93% below pre-pandemic 2019 levels, with traffic at one point collapsing to the lowest level since the 1950s as the BBC article below highlights).

However, having extended its concession for a further 12 years in 2021, Dufry has plans to refurbish the store and frankly it needs it. As the final retail sign-off to this beautiful land, the design and fit-out deserves the same tender loving care as it clearly receives from a group of friendly and dedicated staff.

To invest in a business, of course, you need to have confidence in it and that is surely growing as passenger traffic picks up. Cardiff Airport Chief Executive Officer Spencer Birns said last month that volumes had reached 60% of pre-pandemic levels in the early weeks of June

I spoke to Nicola (pictured below), an experienced member of the World Duty Free team, who confirmed to me what my eyes could see – that people were spending generously and there was no sign of the pandemic-driven reluctance to shop that some pundits had predicted during the nadir of the crisis.

Wales is home to Penderyn Distillery, which besides making the excellent whisky of the same name also produces Brecon Botanicals gin, Merlyn Welsh Cream Liqueur, Five vodka and Siddiqui rum. The company has appropriately high visibility at the airport, another reflection of why national products are so important not just to travel retail but to local economies.

Welsh spirit: Note the clever positioning of the signage around the entrance to the (by UK law) speakeasy-style entrance to the tobacco area

Once out of the duty free, I dined at The Beer House, run by SSP since early 2016. Encouragingly, it was packed with diners and the zoned layout provided plenty of space for a pre-flight meal. I wasn’t quite so encouraged by my meal though. I had the fish & chips – described as ‘freshly battered catch of the day served with chips, minted peas and tartare sauce’ and a diet coke which set me back £18.95.

I didn’t mind the price but I did question the value. The peas were about as freshly minted as a 1930s coin, more the colour of army camouflage gear than the bright, fresh-picked green of the menu photo. If I had a bone to pick with the peas, then I found plenty of them in the fish, not what you want in a pre-flight, family-focused restaurant.

The place could do with a flight information screen too.

I actually packed up my things at one point, leaving my coke unfinished, in the perhap naiive belief that my flight would be on time.

Realisation of a near one-hour delay had me rushing back to save both my table and my coke. Little things such as that not only help travellers but encourage incremental spending.

Back to Cardiff and Pontardawe tomorrow for my granddaughter Carys’ second birthday and then it’s on to the wild west coast of Ireland.

Summer days in Galway. Get some Celtic rays as Van Morrison might put it. I’ve already packed my thermals.

  • Good to hear the Welsh had a welcome in the hillside for you Martin. From the Welsh to the ‘Wesht’ of Ireland – enjoy!

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