Emotion and engagement at Taoyuan International

Classic, colourful, quirky: we’ve championed the virtues of Taiwan Taoyuan International before, but a visit here this week reminds me just what a compelling experience this great airport can be.

I’m here on a short trip – little more than 48 hours – to attend the official opening of The Macallan’s striking new store in partnership with Ever Rich Duty Free. And I’ve had the pleasure of the superb company and hospitality of the Edrington travel retail team and of Ever Rich Duty Free, both yesterday and today.

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The Macallan boutique: A first stand-alone outlet for the single malt brand

The Macallan opening is a milestone moment for the brand owner. This is its first stand-alone airport boutique (there are other shop-in-shops) and the choice of location was not a difficult one: Taiwan is The Macallan’s biggest travel retail market and Ever Rich its biggest customer in the channel.

It’s a statement of faith from the retailer too, at a time when Taiwan’s political tensions with China have delivered a dip in inbound traffic from the Mainland and made the trading environment difficult.

The store is located in the main passenger flow, just after immigration and facing the core liquor & tobacco shop. That makes it a prized space, one where Ever Rich had options and no little competition from brands to populate it. But, as the company told us at the launch event, this was a time to support the leading single malt in the market and to test the boutique concept in a growing category.

We like the bold design too. It would have been easy – and let’s say it was an option on the table – to add a dash of ‘bling’ to this store, with chandeliers and gold to underline the spirit’s luxury credentials. But no, brand owner and retailer took the more muted approach, using the look of The Macallan’s new distillery (it opens in early 2018) as inspiration. The design is in fact a distilled down – pardon the pun – version of the new facility in Scotland, with a stunning wooden roof and beams blending neatly with a series of interactive features.

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At how many airports do you see a full room of orchids on display, chosen and nurtured by the duty free concessionaire?

After the opening event, we had the pleasure of strolling through the terminal to lunch in one of Ever Rich’s restaurants at the airport. Our tour took in the classic stores and elegant brand offer that Ever Rich has created, while there was colour and quirkiness galore too.

We love the variety and imagination that defines the boarding gate areas of the terminal, developed for the airport by Ever Rich. The history of aviation is reimagined in a clever, fun way in one; in the next we find a personal favourite – a homage to Taiwanese music complete with sound system and vinyl records adorning the walls – and then there’s the unmissable Hello Kitty lounge.

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Striking a chord: The inventive Taiwanese music-inspired gate lounge
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The history of aviation through colour and images – at the gate from which I departed Taiwan with a host of memories

The popular children’s character isn’t just celebrated in the lounge design: Eva Air flies an actual Hello Kitty branded plane (mainly to and from Japan), complete with themed interiors, right down to the pink seats. Ever Rich has a store selling branded merchandise adjacent to the gate (and conversion levels are superb, we understand). That’s not all: the airline even has a Hello Kitty branded zone for check-in. What a brilliant idea. It’s a wonder that more airlines don’t enhance the flying experience with similar invention, or indeed that airports don’t seek to make flying fun again with theming of their boarding gates.

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The Hello Kitty gate lounge comes with an Ever Rich-managed store; Eva Air has styled the plane interiors to evoke the children’s character

I reflected on this and much else besides – from the turbulent Chinese visitor arrivals business to some exciting new projects – with Ever Rich Duty Free President Kevin Chiang and his wonderful communications executives Claire Ma and Rin Fu over lunch at the company’s downtown store today.

We’ll bring you a full interview soon, and before that an in-depth report on The Macallan opening and its significance for Edrington.

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At lunch with Ever Rich Duty Free President Kevin Chiang as a whirlwind but inspiring trip draws to a close

For now, it’s time to say goodbye to Taiwan, and as I relax into my seat on the Emirates A 380 to Dubai on the first leg home, to reflect on the rich memories of friendships forged and renewed in this most hospitable of countries.

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