Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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Welcome to The Moodie Report Interim Panama Bureau. This morning I was woken up by the lapping of the waves on the shore below my room and the chirping of the birds (actually, in this social media age, I guess they were tweeting). A little piece of Central American paradise.
I’m here for the annual ASUTIL conference where I’ll be the concluding speaker on the second day tomorrow (a clever piece of timing by the organisers, who are obviously determined to clear the room quickly).
I’ve been coming to this conference for many years now since the very first one in Rio de Janeiro in 1997 and it’s been fascinating to watch the rollercoaster, stop-start evolution of the region’s travel retail sector since. It’s been a bit like watching someone learn to drive. Lots of stalling, sharp braking and occasionally (deliberately or not) full speed ahead, sometimes followed by a crash into a brick wall.
Right now things are very tough, driven by fickle currencies and a generally sombre economic environment. Despite that, some 347 delegates have turned up this year to ASUTIL (I expect about 3 of them to still be in the room by the time I speak), drawn no doubt by the event’s ability to bring together an impressive number of South and Central American and Caribbean travel retailers in one place at one time.
Dufry’s Rene Riedi, in the stand-out presentation of the conference’s first-day, also made it clear how positively the industry giant sees the future across these diverse regions, highlighting anticipated passenger growth by air and sea as well as tremendous development in airport infrastructure and airline fleets.
[“I’ll have the octopus please…”]
To get to Panama I flew from the consistently excellent Heathrow T5 through the rather more variable Miami International Airport. I am starting to feel like an extra from Groundhog Day, so many times have I been through the Florida gateway in recent months (and besides flying through there tomorrow to London I’m back again next week en route from Haiti). The staff at the American Airlines-run Admiral’s Club Lounge are always as chirpy as the birds outside my Panama bureau window but the ambience is about as exciting as a prison cell on death row and the food decidedly worse. Appropriately then I tend to lose the will to live when I enter the place and consign myself to a few lumps of sweaty cheddar cheese and a Chardonnay with more oak in it than Sherwood Forest. I think Robin Hood might be the winemaker.
Never mind, there’s plenty that is good about Miami International, notably the quite wonderful Britto shop (pictured below) featuring the work of the famous pop artist, one of my favourite airport shops.
Tonight is the Gala Dinner, always a highlight of ASUTIL. Despite being in the company of some decidedly dangerous company I shall limit myself to a single glass (the largest one I can find admittedly) of Sauvignon Blanc. After all, I’ve got a conference room to clear tomorrow.
[Ok am I the only person to be confused by this sign? So would you opt for Connecting Flights or Other Connecting Flights?]
[This is interesting. TGI Fridays has opened a space for smokers to dine, adjacent to the main restaurant. A first in airport food & drinks?]