Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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Today’s date enjoys unique status. It is February 2, 2020, or 02/02/2020, in the MM/DD/YYYY format and the DD/MM/YYYY format. At just after 2 a.m., it was 02:02:20 on 02/02/2020.
As CNN explains, this makes today’s date a palindrome – i.e. it reads the same way either backwards or forwards (like the name Bob or the rather more complex Mr. Owl Ate My Metal Worm or, more suitably for this particular Lunar New Year, Was It A Rat I Saw?)
One should usually enjoy these moments for, as CNN notes, the previous palindrome date in all formats came 909 years ago on 11/11/1111. The next won’t arrive for 101 years (12/12/2121) and after that there will not be another until 03/03/3030.
However, its palindrome status is about all that’s good about today. February 2, 2020 has been a day that has kept me busy from the early hours of the morning until well into the night trying to keep tabs on the escalating coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the travel retail sector.
“Tough times ahead, my friend. It’s like looking down a dark hole,” said my long-time comrade in travel retail, Jose Maria ‘Chim’ N. Esteban III, the great pioneer of duty free in the Philippines (and now Chairman of Landmark Management Services, Landmark Management P&C and Regent Travel Retail Group). Another equally senior figure used rather stronger language to describe the situation.
“Here we go again,” emailed a senior Aer Rianta International executive, who, like me, had led a business through the dark days of SARS. I could almost hear the sigh from Dublin.
Is it really only 2 February? Was it only one month ago I was writing so optimistically about prospects for 2020? In those few weeks the travel retail world has been turned upside down as a new form of coronavirus struck at the very nationality that has been the engine room of the sector for over a decade and which will be long into the future.
More importantly, in those few weeks over 300 people have died from coronavirus-related pneumonia and thousands upon thousands have been taken seriously ill. The comparisons with SARS are unwelcome but both inevitable and valid. As Luya You, an analyst with Bocom International told Bloomberg this week, “The benchmark everyone is comparing this to is SARS 2003”.
In the past week alone we have reported the closure of the CDF Mall in Haitang Bay, Sanya, China and that of Lotte Duty Free’s downtown store on Jeju Island, South Korea. We have chronicled the collapse of tourism into Macau following China’s temporary suspension of the Individual Visitor Scheme to Macau. There will be more sombre news, I’m afraid, in the week to come.
It’s sad and grim on every level. A time to buckle down as businesses, stay safe as individuals. It’s important to keep noting that the travel retail sector historically recovers quickly from crisis. It will again this time. But it’s going to be a tough few months.
February 2, 2020? Backwards or forwards, you can keep it. It has brought too much bad news. I’ll farewell it in fact with another palindrome, one that sums up my feelings and I suspect those of many – Dammit, I’m Mad! Whichever way you read it, it tells the same story.