Fiesta time in Manila

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

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The Moodie Report’s Manila bureau is in full operation this week as I spend a few days talking to key stakeholders in the Philippines’ travel retail and tourism industry.

From my 24th floor room at the New World hotel, I look out each morning over this sprawling city of contrasts, said to be the most densely populated in the world. As of the last census, some 13% of the national population live in Metro Manila, a region composed of 16 cities.

Many of its citizens spend much of their time working abroad as officially designated Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), bringing back enormous funds to the country as well as countless tales of hardship and sacrifice.

State-owned Duty Free Philippines, with whom I have spent a lot of time this week, appropriately describes this group as “modern-day heroes” for the way in which they contribute to the families and economy of the Philippines.

At the sprawling Fiesta Mall, near Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the retailer generates an extraordinary business from both the OFW and Balikbayan (literally ‘return to the homeland’) sectors, the latter comprising Filipinos (or those of Filipino ancestry) who live outside the country but regularly return.

This vast shopping complex sells everything from fridges to fine wine, washing machines to whisky, confectionery (and a whole lot of it) to coffee makers.

There’s something, it seems, for everyone. High-end, low-end, colour cosmetics, canned food, you name it.

Arriving Balikbayans and OFWs have 15 days in which to shop and a generous US$1,000 allowance. According to Chief Operating Officer Lorenzo ‘Enchong’ Formoso (below), the average spend is around US$300 and from what I saw this week a lot of people go much higher than that. Look at the picture below of the male shopper with his supermarket trolley almost overflowing.

If that’s not enough to convince you of the levels of business here, then the heavy promotion by blockbuster brands such as Johnnie Walker and M&M’s will. Diageo has taken over the entrance area adjacent to the escalators into the store with a high profile Johnnie Walker Double Black area, while at the top of the stairs (below) M&M’s welcomes customers with a vibrant, colourful competition offering great prizes.

This must be the world’s biggest Arrivals duty free store. I’ve certainly seen nothing like it before. And it’s set to be even bigger and better as Duty Free Philippines embarks on an ambitious improvement programme that anticipates the retailer’s 25th anniversary, due to be celebrated from next May. Watch this space, there’s a great new chapter in a long-running success story about to unfold.

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