Fast lane, green lane, any lane will do

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

4.18 in the morning and I’m on my second coffee in the Moodie Davitt Interim Lockdown Bureau. It’s dawn and the blackness of the night when I awoke at 3.44 is giving way to an opaque grey. It’s the last day of a long month in a long first half of what already feels like an interminable year.

Give or take an hour, this has been my routine almost every day of 2020, the Year of the Rat which will be forever remembered for bringing a kind of plague. On my desk I have a cute MCM plush rat that I picked up a few days back from our soon to be closed headquarters. He or she is a cute little thing, who manages to retain a smile despite this year not being a good one in PR terms for the rodent community.

How very much has changed since word first began surfacing globally about a mystery virus in China way back in January. More than half a million deaths, nearly 44,000 of them here in the UK, and a startling quarter of them in the US alone. I converse weekly with dozens of people who have lost their jobs in the aviation and travel retail sectors and, try as I might, there are few places I can help them secure another.

Some time in the next few days I will become a grandfather for the first time and, like all grandparents and parents down the ages, I worry what kind of world this young miracle of biology will come bursting into. That’s a particular concern this year, of course, as one considers the health crisis and the economic hardship that’s deepening by the day in its wake. “We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over,” were the less than encouraging words of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, yesterday.

And yet, every morning as I sit here and the skies lighten, so does my mood. My working day always starts with reference to the latest COVID-19 case figures from China and South Korea, the original hotspots of the health crisis. And though each country has taken the odd step backwards for every few forwards, advance they have thanks to a combination of civic responsibility and official rigour. It’s my job to assess this crisis in parochial travel retail terms and so those daily statistics are of utmost importance.

China, buoyed by the central government’s acute understanding of the consumption benefits of the duty free industry, is picking up fast. Its latest changes to the offshore duty free policy on Hainan island (left), revealed yesterday by The Moodie Davitt Report and effective tomorrow, will transform the Asian travel retail landscape. And South Korea, while still reeling in touristic terms, appears to be bottoming out in terms of duty free sales, with large-scale daigou purchases driving extraordinary spends per head. Other Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, also offer cause for encouragement, as does New Zealand, my homeland, which (a recent example of slackness aside), largely has the virus under control.

In tourism (and therefore travel retail) terms, of course, the big test for all these countries is what happens as borders open (in part or full).

UK travel companies say bookings are booming after Boris Johnson’s government announced that blanket restrictions on non-essential overseas travel will be relaxed from 6 July. The government is preparing to unveil a list of ‘air bridge’ countries, which will mean that Brits can travel to those destinations, linked to a ‘traffic light’ system that will classify countries depending on the prevalence of COVID-19. ‘Green’ will mean they are safer than the UK (expect lots of green then); ‘amber’ will be less safe, and ‘red’ will mean passengers arriving back will still need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Lastminute.com said it posted an +80% increase in holiday sales compared to one week earlier. Spain and Greece (both green by the earlier definition) are the main beneficiaries to date. And yet the Greek government, perhaps sensing if not seeing red, just announced that it is extending a ban on direct flights arriving from Britain, pushing the initial date back to July 15.

There are variations on this theme all around the world. Some talk of travel bubbles, others of fast lanes or green lanes. I don’t much care what lanes they are, as long as they’re moving. And whatever the talk, it should be encouraged, for, within reason, the world needs to start travelling again. And it is. Readers of our main website will have noticed our new exclusive column ‘Dufry, the recovery phase’, which monitors the welcome kick-starting of the global giant’s vast retail network. In another, thankfully regular, column we’ve called #TimeforTravel, we document daily the modest but meaningful acceleration in passenger traffic – and therefore travel retail business – worldwide.

Welcome sight: Dufry back in business at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport Terminal 4 in Spain

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is right that this is not even close to being over. One only has to look at the Trumpian tragedy of the US and the situation in much of South America to know that. But his comment that we all want to get on with our lives is perhaps more salient. In fact, we simply must.

In need of some good PR: The Year of the Rat hasn’t quite gone to plan

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