22 days into the new decade and I’m on my first business trip of the year. After a 2019 spent doing practically nothing BUT travelling, what’s wrong with me? If this carries on I’ll soon be out of practice. As it is, I’m confused. Do I turn left (France) or right (Switzerland)? Well, as I always like to do the right thing, I’ll enter Switzerland.
That little introduction will offer most of you a clue as to which airport is my first stop of 2020. Yes, I’m at EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, possibly the longest airport name in the world and gateway to Switzerland and its immediate neighbour in this part of the world, France. Lagardère Travel Retail should set up their HQ here so that vendors could see them and Dufry within minutes of one another.
I’m rather lucky to be here at all. Basel is shrouded in a fog reminiscent of a Charles Dickens scene by the River Thames. The pilot informed us (after landing) that he had been forced to deploy the landing system to get us down safely.
I’ve set up my first Interim Bureau of the year in a modest, functional but rather good little airport food & beverage outlet called Wellness Bar & Food. Given the weather conditions, perhaps I should order the pea soup.
I am not alone. Right behind me what appears to be a very high-profile, high-finance meeting involving (I think) Swiss and American financiers. It’s like an episode of some Netflix high finance drama. Let’s just hope it’s not a remake of The Big Short.
To matters more serious. When I set up my business in 2002 one of my first projects was The China Travel Retail Summit, an amazing event that I organised together with China Duty Free Group and King Power Group (HK). It was an extraordinary conference held in equally extraordinary surrounds – The Great Hall of the People on the edge of Tiananmen Square. And the Gala Dinner was held, incredible as it may sound, at the Great Wall of China.
The Summit was a great success and plans were well set to repeat it in 2003 and then annually. That event had to be cancelled, as did the TFWA Asia Pacific Conference & Exhibition of the same year. The reason? A health crisis caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, originating in China, which devastated travel markets around the world.
Sound familiar? Even to industry newcomers? Thought so. The outbreak of a new coronavirus strain in China, since spread to several other countries via air travellers, is of deep concern to all industry stakeholders. So much so that, like 2003, we are bringing you a daily update on the latest developments and their impact on our industry.
Although the Chinese authorities are tackling the issue with a welcome vigour and transparency, there is no doubt that the outbreak offers clear and present danger for all travel-related business sectors, aviation and travel retail being high on that list. Those of us who worked in this industry during the SARS crisis of 2003 know only too well what impact a major health crisis can have on travel markets, performance and stocks. I hope against hope that a repeat is not on the cards, but it is a time of deep concern for our channel.