Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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Aloha. The Moodie Report has had countless interim bureaus down the years but I’m not sure many ever quite matched this one.
I’m in Waikiki, Hawaii and pictured above and below are the gorgeous views from my 23rd floor balcony at the Sheraton Waikiki. While hundreds of surfers and swimmers are enjoying the gloriously balmy Pacific waters, I’m maintaining my perennially sad reputation by confining myself to my room (ok then, balcony) doing my best to maintain The Moodie Report’s online coverage.
Having flown what seemed like 130 hours to get here (through the tightest of connections at the fortunately splendidly efficient San Franciso International Airport), I’m in Hawaii for one of the biggest occasions in DFS Group’s 53-year history.
I was last here two years ago for DFS Hawaii’s 50th anniversary and it’s good to be back. Important announcements will be made tomorrow night during a gala evening but I won’t spoil the surprise yet (and besides it’s under strict embargo). But it’s going to be a momentous occasion and a lot of fun.
I started my journey at London Heathrow Terminal 1, commercially speaking a potpourri of restaurants and shops good (sometimes very good), bad and, in one notable case, downright ugly.
Heathrow does a consistently good job with food & beverage across its whole estate, though T1 is not its strongest example. But there are some good outlets here. Take a look at the queue waiting to enter Giraffe (run by The Restaurant Group). It’s a fair bet that many are regular travellers who know something.
Giraffe is one of the world’s best performing airport casual food restaurants (it’s a finalist in that category in our FAB Awards to be announced next month) and it’s easy to see why. The staff are always smiling and welcoming, its spotlessly clean despite the crowds, the menu is diverse and well-priced and the environment is light-hearted and breezy without being gimmicky. Truly a Giraffe that stands tall.
Nearby, one of my perennial favourites, Caviar House & Prunier, was also doing excellent business, albeit with a totally different client mix. I love the mood of post-security, pre-travel relaxation that you can see in the posture, the smiles and the choice of food & drink here.
I also liked The Harlequin Alehouse & Eatery (above), which makes nice use of confined space. The Bridge Bar – Eating House (below) isn’t one of my favourites (I find it dark and off-putting) but that’s just a question of personal preference. Plenty of people do like it as the photo shows. And that’s the thing – over recent years Heathrow has done a fine job of creating a real diversity of F&B that offers something for just about everyone in terms of choice of food & drink as well as price-point.
Now to the retail…
Let’s start with the good – nay, the excellent.
Pink (Thomas Pink) is simply one of the best specialist stores in the airport world. These snapshots don’t do it justice for it is always immaculately merchandised, offers a brilliant range of shirt colours, sizes and styles, and the staff know what they are talking about. It’s upscale yet good value and there’s often a sale for those seeking a discount. Along with Paul Smith in T5 (pictured) it would rank in my top ten airport specialist stores worldwide.
Dixons Travel is another winner. I think I have bought around 75 travel adaptors in this store down the years, thanks to my incapability of packing better than a two year-old. But I’ve bought plenty else besides, drawn by the excellent range of consumer technology and fast, knowledgeable service.
I’d also single out the Montblanc and Swarovski stand-alone boutiques. Montblanc’s consistency across its vast airport network is something to admire. The stores always look uncluttered, stylish and pristine.
As a Montblanc writing instrument aficionado I never miss a chance to check the stores and to see whether a new model is in stock. Swarovski has many of the same qualities. It’s, I think, one of the most underrated brands in travel retail, and yet you find it on every continent, always looking good, always doing well – a retailer’s favourite and a consumer’s favourite, a classic case of a brand that just never stands still.
However, I do find that the linear line-up of specialist boutiques at T1 (see below) reminds me of that old song ‘Little Boxes’. They all are household names but there’s a certain monotony about the arrangement that dampens down the individual and collective brand allure.
World Duty Free Group’s not at its best here either, certainly not in liquor & tobacco. The sight lines are very poor as a result of all the towering fixtures and the whole thing looks a little like a duty free shop from another era. Compare and contrast with WDFG in T5. I know the latter is a new terminal but the disparity is just too great.
The same retailer fares much, much better in its other Heathrow terminals and, a few metres away, does an excellent job with World of Whiskies, which is always packed, and always staffed by managers who really know their whiskies.
Excuse the blurred shot (I was being told off for the nine millionth time for taking pictures at Heathrow – I once got warned under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and told the policeman it should be called the Prevention of Tourism Act. He didn’t seem amused.) but you get the idea.
Tumi, one of my favourite brands (I have a ‘mobile Moodie’ Tumi briefcase and a shoulder bag that accompany me on every trip), is a frankly unattractive shop. Lovely product, nice staff, shame about the look.
I noticed the Burberry pop-up store, though I wasn’t overly convinced. I’d love to know how well it’s doing and indeed how successful the pop-up phenomenon is in airports (some, I know, do brilliantly). The main Burberry boutique oozed class as always.
Now to the ugly…
I have singled out this store before but really Hamley’s should be reported under the Trades Description Act for its claim above this pokey alleyway of a store of being ‘The Finest Toy Shop in the World’. That’s about as plausible as a street seller’s sign I saw in Phuket recently (below) proclaiming, ‘Genuine Fake Watches’.
If this is the finest toy shop in the world, then I’m Brad Pitt. At the front of the shop, a wind-up rabbit and kitten in a large plastic container were vying for attention with two other toy animals, one of which looked like the offspring between a dolphin and a parrot and the other like a potato that had mutated arms and legs and turned orange after being caught up in a terrible nuclear accident. The kitten was mewing as if to say “Get me out of here” and I had every sympathy.
At the right hand side of the entrance (see top Hamleys picture), a strange pink squid splashed mournfully in some tepid, dirty water the colour of anisette. For a moment I felt like returning it to the Pacific once I reached Hawaii, but thought I may struggle with the US customs laws – and anyway, it was rubber. Honestly this store is about as nicely merchandised as one of those ‘Pound Stores’ you find in the UK High Street (buy two of my little rubber friends for a couple of squid…)
And so the long journey to San Franciso and the unusual spectre of a warm and welcoming US immigration officer (in fact all the SFO staff were unfailingly polite – LAX on the way back, where I always feel at immigration the sort of warmth with which an inmate must be received at Guantánamo Bay, may be a different story…). You know you’re in America when there’s more food & beverage outlets than there are airplanes.
Then ensued a Usain Bolt-like dash with my trolley to the domestic terminal (and yes, as Tony Bennett might have sang, “I left my cart in San Francisco”) and leapt on to my United Airlines plane just before it closed to be offered a welcoming glass of warm Chardonnay in a plastic cup that tasted like biting into an oak tree that had been sprinkled with oxidised white wine.
Another five hour jaunt out to Hawaii but all thoughts of jet lag disappear when you step on to this magical island.
Having set out at noon on Thursday and having flown for what seemed forever, it’s a strange sensation to realise when you arrive that it’s still Thursday and your staff are busily working away in the office on Friday. By definition any story I break here is going to be a day late! What chance has a Publisher got?
There’s only one thing for it, I’m going to have to close the laptop, close my eyes and just lay there on my balcony listening to the timeless motion of the waves crashing in from the Pacific. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.