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Touch down Taipei. What a wonderful feeling to be back here in this vibrant, exhilaratingly diverse city after no less than 41 months’ absence due to the pandemic.
I was here last in November 2019 to attend the inauguration of Ever Rich Duty Free’s new-look stores at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Terminal 2. I recall that trip fondly. There was so much satisfaction and optimism among the Ever Rich ownership, management and team at a job so well done, a future so bright.
The stores were, as always, first-rate; the taste impeccable; the service top-drawer. Some 22 years after the company’s foundation, Ever Rich Duty Free’s prospects appeared golden.
And then. Thump. Within weeks stories began to surface about a mystery virus surfacing in Wuhan, Mainland China. On 20 January, 2020 the first case of what would become known as COVID-19 was reported on the island. From 19 March 2020, most foreign nationals were barred from entering Taiwan. That ban would not be lifted for 31 months.
You know the rest. Taiwan was plunged, like the rest of the world, into a prolonged period of isolation that over time would engulf every citizen, every family, every business. Not so much at first, though, in Taiwan. Through 2020, the island went a remarkable eight months without a single domestic coronavirus case, its zero-COVID model allowing a state of near normality in terms of daily life. Meanwhile Ever Rich’s strong offshore duty free business in Kinmen and Penghu – as with Hainan in Mainland China and Jeju, South Korea – provided a critical lifeline.
All that changed in late April 2021 following an outbreak of the Delta variant among Taiwanese crew members of China Airlines. Soon after, national borders were closed and Taiwan went into its first soft lockdown, which prohibited people from gathering in groups. Domestic travel suffered immediately.
With its roots in the travel and aviation sectors, Ever Rich Duty Free was right in the firing line. The suspension of internal travel was a body blow. And while internal constraints eased, it would be April 2022 before the authorities announced a transitional phase that would mean living with the virus.
Finally, on 13 October 2022, Taiwan opened its borders to international travellers and ended its strict quarantine policy. What one publication called ‘Taiwan’s great reopening’ was underway.
The recovery since, for travel & tourism and Ever Rich Duty Free. has been steady rather than meteoric. Even now, passenger traffic and sales are only back to between 50% and 60% of 2019 levels. But the trajectory is encouraging and the prospects are brightening by the day.
Ever Rich Duty Free is moving fast to accelerate that momentum. It has opened a flurry of new or renovated shops at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, which I will view later today. Just as importantly, it has embarked on a profoundly ambitious ESG Programme dedicated to creating a more sustainable future by reducing carbon emissions and promoting environmental protection.
You can read about that programme in the May edition of The Moodie Davitt Magazine. As anyone who knows Ever Rich will confirm. this is no tokenist nor feelgood campaign but instead a full-blooded approach to changing the world for the better.
“We may be ‘duty free’ but we have a duty to Taiwan so we’re not duty free in another sense,” was the neat way that Ever Rich Duty Free President Kevin Chiang put it as I dined with him and his father, company Founder & Chairman Simon Chiang and members of the wonderful management leadership team at a brilliant Teppanyaki restaurant last night.
That sense of national and social duty, fundamental to the company’s ethos of the last 28 years, has never burned more brightly nor more urgently.