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Every day a new word drops into my inbox, care of a website called Word Genius. It’s a fun way to both test and improve your vocabulary and I find it surprising that despite working in a sector based on words and revelling in the joy of them, how many of them I don’t know.
Today’s word is exigency. And dear readers, I can tell you we have an exigency on our hands. Exigency means a crisis that requires immediate action and the escalating COVID-19 outbeak certainly constitutes that.
This crisis has enveloped the travel retail industry with bewildering speed, transforming buoyant 2020 prospects into quickly redrawn projections that foretell varying levels of decline according to how long the epidemic (and potential pandemic) runs.
The first half has now been largely written off by many brands and retailers. ‘Recovery’, i.e. a return to last year’s sales or growth, is not predicted by most until well into the second half. Brands are hunkering down, delaying investment in the most-affected regions and discreetly placing it in those that are relatively untouched by the crisis.
Whereas the big question until now has been when will the medical inflection point (the peak of the outbreak) be reached in China? Now what everybody is asking is, will a Chinese epidemic become a worldwide pandemic? The frightening acceleration of confirmed cases in South Korea and Italy, in particular, has the medical community gravely concerned. The toll on business – notably the travel retail channel – is of secondary but still great importance.
I write these words from The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Dubai Bureau. The COVID-19 outbreak has limited my travel this year and is likely to do so for a few months ahead. It’s good therefore to escape the grim February weather of London and try to clear my head a little from the relentless pressure of the past few weeks in the balmy climes of Dubai.
Last night I attended the final of the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Tennis Championships (the men’s tourament folllows). It was a magnificent occasion featuring one of the all-time great finals as hot favourite Simona Halep of Romania defeated rising star Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
The event is one of the glamour tournaments on the WTA circuit and it’s not hard to see why. The organisation is flawless, the weather balmy, the facilities first-class. It is remarkable to consider that Dubai Duty Free runs the whole event in-house and does it with all the flair and expertise that you would expect from a full-time sports event organiser.
I caught up with Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Colm McLoughlin last night at the final and his sense of pride was unmistakable. It was his vision to create a tennis tournament (men’s and women’s) of global renown; to build an appropriate stadium; and to create the superb Irish Village that is nestled in the shadow of the stadium. This is a man who is revered by his team and in Dubai business and social circles, yet he remains as unassuming as he was when he set off on this remarkable journey 37 years ago.
When he took to the stage to address the winners, sponsors, VIPS and a large audience of spectators, Colm spoke as if he was addressing a few people in a room – warmly, graciously and unpretentiously but with his trademark retention of facts and numbers.
He told me later that Dubai Duty Free, which has a relatively small Chinese passenger traffic base compared with Asian airports, is nonetheless really feeling the pinch from the COVID-19 crisis. Chinese passengers are particularly high spenders on premium skincare, spirits, tobacco and luxury items and those sectors, among others, will take a heavy hit this year.
Dubai Duty Free, however, enjoys a diverse passenger base, and provided the health crisis does not turn into a global pandemic, it will still remain a vibrant business. The truth is, however, no-one knows what lies around the corner with this situation. It is a time to concentrate on the basics and no-one does that better in an exigency than Dubai Duty Free.