Flying with butterfly wings towards better times

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

Nothing I thought would move me
But that was yesterday,
Butterfly wings have flown me
A thousand miles away – Butterfly Wings, Ann Sofie von Otter

It’s late night stretching towards early morning in Moodie Davitt Asia HQ in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. I’m sipping on a rather nice Auntsfield Pinot Noir 2019 from Marlborough, New Zealand which I am almost hesitant to drink such is the beauty of its brilliant blood red hues and its almost butterfly-like grace. Or perhaps listening as I am to the achingly lovely sounds of Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, that allusion was planted in my mind. No matter. And anyway, I did say ‘almost’.

I actually feel like raising a glass tonight for in the space of a few hours this week I have written or edited a flurry of stories that each in their differing way offered cause for optimism after all the gloom of the past 20 months.

Collectively they do have me thinking that travel retail might have turned a corner every bit as tricky as those at Parabolica, Monza or Eau Rouge, Spa. And news in the local South China Morning Post that we are on the cusp of a phased reopening of the Hong Kong border with Mainland China is a further fillip to the Moodie mood.

Let’s consider those headlines and a summary of what lies behind them:

  • Lotte Duty Free welcomes back Singaporean group tour customers – Precisely 634 days after the last group tourists visited Lotte Duty Free’s flagship store in Myeong-dong, Seoul, the retailer this week welcomed Singaporean group travellers back. Yes, it was just a small number of shoppers but make no mistake it was a hugely symbolic moment.
  • Back with a bang: DXB eyes 100% capacity as Dubai Airports reopens Concourse A – The reopening of the splendid Concourse A at Dubai International Airport (DXB) Terminal 3 complex today (24 November) saw the facility’s first flight since being closed 20 months ago, as the UAE authorities fought to control the spread of the then fledgling COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, you read it right. 20 months ago. 25 March 2020. 609 days. Another case of welcome back.
  • Christmas travel returns: Resurgent Heathrow highlights ten festive passenger experiences – I took real pleasure in editing this story, knowing the at times almost overwhelming challenges that the Heathrow Airport commercial team have faced since the onset (and onslaught) of the pandemic. When Heathrow Retail and Property Director Fraser Brown said, “After social lives were placed on hold for 20 months, we are excited to welcome more passengers this festive season so they can feel joy in overdue reunions with their loved ones”, it was far more than corporate speak. I have chatted a lot to Fraser through the pandemic and I know full well how tough it has been for them. So to see a story like this that celebrates some of the new retail and F&B openings was really encouraging. I know Fraser won’t mind me sharing a note he dropped me after we published, which said, “So proud when you stand back and see what the team have achieved with our partners in such difficult circumstances.” So you should be Fraser. You and they take a bow.
  • MEADFA returns: On location at the Middle East & Africa Duty Free Conference in Dubai – Thanks to the 21-day hotel quarantine requirement on arrival from the UAE into Hong Kong I wasn’t at the MEADFA conference but some 460 delegates were. That is an impressive number. MEADFA President Sherif Toulan rightly thanked Dubai Duty Free, TFWA, sponsors and delegates for their support (my business partner Dermot Davitt should be added to that list for his typically fine conference moderating alongside John Rimmer), in a recognition that the event’s success represented an important landmark in travel retail’s accelerating comeback in the region.
  • Qatar Duty Free set to outperform 2019 sales by end of the year – This might have been the most upbeat of all the week’s headlines and certainly the news from Qatar was more promising than the more muted outlook being presented at MEADFA. By year-end, Qatar Duty Free Vice President Operations Thabet Musleh reckons monthly sales will be outstripping their 2019 equivalent. With some brands in key categories they have been doing that for some time. Qatar Duty Free and Hainan have been the two shining lights of our channel during this prolonged period of deep gloom. Both are set to glow even brighter in 2022.

Thanks, as mentioned, to Hong Kong’s strict hotel quarantine rules, I have had the slightly odd experience of watching my colleagues and industry peers at the recent Cannes and MEADFA events while stranded here in Moodie Davitt Asia HQ. But never mind, the industry news is getting better, we’re COVID-free here, I’ve got a lovely wine to see out the evening and, heck, if I want to escape I can simply close my eyes and fly off with butterfly wings.

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