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I’ve arrived in Cannes for my first TFWA World Exhibition in three years, a strange though welcome feeling of returning to normal in a world that still remains anything but. I’m holed up in the first of two Interim Cannes Bureaus, this one just until Sunday at which point I shall take shared accommodation with the other half of The Moodie Davitt Report ownership team, a certain Dubliner, these days based in Galway, by the name of Davitt.
Remarkably, it will be the first time I have seen Dermot in person since November 2019 (at the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup) despite having had several hundred Zoom encounters during the intervening period.
We’ll probably try to kid each other that we’re both modern-day Benjamin Buttons, aging backwards. In my case at least it’s probably the direct inverse, such has been the almost unrelenting toll of this unique (I hope) period in steering a company through the most sustained and severe crisis our sector has ever faced. Expect lots of Benjamin Button moments then this week as people reacquaint themselves with industry friends after a long gap.
MM: “Greetings xx, you look great! (Wow, you’ve aged a lot)
XX: “Moodie-san, you too! (Jeez, is that really him? He looks terrible.)
I flew here late yesterday afternoon having opened an Interim Moodie Davitt Madrid Bureau at a fabulous little boutique hotel called Artiem Madrid, just 20 minutes from Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport. If you’re visiting the airport, AENA or Dufry’s Spanish headquarters, this is the perfect place, nothing flashy but well-priced with nice rooms and run by perhaps the friendliest staff I have ever encountered in a hotel.
I chose it as I was indeed visiting all three of the institutions mentioned. I flew into Madrid on Wednesday on a whistlestop mission to meet the AENA commercial team in advance of their much-anticipated duty free tender. I have the honour of moderating the AENA pre-bid workshop this Tuesday in Cannes. More of that in a moment. I was there also to conduct a film interview with Dufry CEO Xavier Rossinyol for The Trinity Forum in Singapore (1-2 November).
To get to Madrid, I left Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) on Tuesday night, stopping (but alas not alighting) at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and transiting through Dubai. Like the hero of Washington Irving’s 19th century tale Rip Van Winkle, HKIA feels very much like an airport that is waking up after a long, unexpected sleep, a period in which the world has changed beyond recognition.
Buoyed by the recent scrapping of hotel quarantine requirements, the commercial team at Airport Authority Hong Kong are moving into top gear with their multitude of retail and food & beverage partners to get stores and restaurants open again. The two anchor licensees, Duty Zero by CDF (wines & spirits, tobacco and gourmet foods) and Beauty&You (perfume & cosmetics, run by The Shilla Duty Free), are now operating two shops each in key zones of the terminal.
Food & beverage (F&B) services have been enhanced gradually over recent months with more than 50% of F&B outlets landside now reopened. Airside, the two food courts are in operation, supported by a wide range of coffee cafés and light refreshment outlets such as Starbucks and Maison Kayser in different parts of the terminal.
Excitingly too, the beautifully reimagined luxury zone comprising 40 first-tier brands will reopen gradually from 1 November. Right up at the top of the tier is Louis Vuitton, which will finally shed its elegant cladding on that date and open to a no-doubt receptive public. Make no mistake about it, one of the world’s great airports is on its way back and we all should be encouraged by that.
At Emirates check-in I was directed to the Plaza Premium Lounge near gate 60 but given that I was flying from way down in the West Hall, I decided to head down there instead and see what was open. As shown by the very impactful digital signage, which you can see from a long way away as you make your way along the terminal, the SSP-run O’Learys was very much open.
Right now it’s a slightly sad and lonely place at night, given the darkness outside, the modest number of diners and the shuttered nature of the other outlets around it. I had a half bottle of decent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (always better than a full bottle of a half-decent one) and some spring rolls for HK$286 (US$36.50).
DXB is, of course, a very different proposition. Its first-half passenger total of 27.9 million was just 1.2 million shy of the whole 2021 tally. Dubai Airports and Dubai Duty Free responded early and proactively to the easing of the crisis and I urge you to read what I consider two of the stand-out interviews in our special dual magazine for TFWA World Exhibition and The Trinity Forum (1-2 November, Singapore), pictured below.
The Dubai Airports one is with CEO Paul Griffiths and Executive Vice President Commercial Eugene Barry and as usual with the pair, it’s void of cliches and packed with insight. I’d rate the interview with Dubai Duty Free Chief Operating Officer Ramesh Cidambi among the most candid that I’ve conducted during the 20 years of The Moodie Davitt Report and, partly for that reason, one of the best.
I won’t spoil your reading by giving away too much but let’s just say don’t expect stock answers – other than more literally on supply chain issues, a subject on which Ramesh offers plenty of pushback against suppliers’ claimed woes.
In Madrid, it was my great privilege to meet the women driving the much-anticipated AENA duty free tender, Managing Director Commercial and Real Estate, Maria José Cuenda and Director Commercial Services Marta Abardia Meneses, together with Communications Director María Gómez Rodríguez. I met them with Hervé Gilg, Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal, which has been appointed AENA’s advisory partner for the tender.
Maria José will be joining me on stage on Tuesday at a pre-bid gathering that has attracted a who’s who of the travel retail industry – not surprisingly given the size of the prize(s) on offer, Spain’s resurgent tourism sector and the impact of Brexit on spending by British travellers.
After my AENA meeting I headed over to the offices of current Spanish airports duty free incumbent for the film interview with Xavier Rossinyol. Again, I won’t ruin the surprise but I can promise you that Trinity delegates are in for a treat, a really strong, forward-thinking and consumer-centric view of how Dufry sees the future.
Film interviews, of course, require make-up. Lots of it in my case to get me even half way presentable for the cameras (“Son, you have a face for radio,” as my dear old Ma used to say) so expect to see most shots fixed on the interviewee.
Never, I can assure you, has so much Shiseido Radiant Lifting Foundation (140 Natural Ivory if you’re wondering) been expended on a single subject and a single session I can assure you. If you notice any stock shortages on duty free shelves in coming weeks you now know why.
Alas, on my out of Madrid, I didn’t get a chance to size up the duty free shops, foolishly heading straight to the M area for my flight to Nice, where there’s not a lot of retail. Instead I set up an Interim Bureau adjacent to a little F&B outlet simply called Takeaway, ordered some pasta in tomato sauce (kindly reheated by the lovely assistant) and a can of Mahou beer. Who needs sophisticated? The dwell time passed in what seemed the blink of an eye but which actually allowed me to post around three stories on the eve of the Cannes show.
To which, as mentioned, I have now arrived. It’s good to be back amid an increasingly optimistic mood in our industry. Yes COVID is on the rise again in many countries but I do not believe our world will ever turn back in on itself again whatever variants come along. Last year’s TFWA show was one of solidarity. This will be one of revival.