The Moodie Davitt Interim Hong Kong Bureau is back open for business, after a long, 9-month, COVID-driven absence from the SAR.
I must say that I much prefer this Interim Bureau to yesterday’s – the Regal Oriental Hotel, Kowloon City – where my wife and I stayed for around 9 hours post our COVID-19 test at Hong Kong International Airport in the early hours of Wednesday morning. More of that in a moment.
I’m 41,001 feet above Sirajganj, India, onboard Qatar Airways 818 from Doha to Hong Kong.
After a refreshing overnight stay at the Oryx Airport Hotel at Hamad International, I had the welcome chance to catch up with Qatar Duty Free Vice President Operations Thabet Musleh and his colleagues today.
Thabet is a man in love with his job, a human bundle of energy who permanently looks forward rather than back, and who refuses to let the irritating matter of a global pandemic get in the way of progress.
Thabet (‘Tab’) is in especially upbeat mood at present thanks to his beloved Liverpool recently being crowned Premiership champions in the UK, their first title in 30 years. I swear I could still see the smile on his face from the occasion through the face mask he donned during our meeting.
One of the reasons for our catch-up was to start judging early entrants in The QDF Factor, a competition open to brands, both within or outside the travel retail channel, that offers a top prize of a complimentary, six-month listing and high-profile promotion with Qatar Duty Free and a six-month US$50,000 multi-media advertising campaign with The Moodie Davitt Report. That’s some prize and not surprisingly interest is white-hot, Thabet says.
It’s not just companies seeking a boost (or even a debut) in the channel but also some big industry names keen to champion what they consider to be breakthrough innovation at a time it is needed most, he adds.
How good it was to be back doing the part of my job I enjoy the most. I viewed some of the exciting retail work in progess at the splendid Doha gateway, including the brand new Hublot boutique (an airport first in the Middle East) opened that day, a comprehensive renovation of the duty free offer, and the exciting introduction of an ultra-premium beauty boutique.
Today we walked – and drove – the vast expanse of Hamad International, culminating in the chance to see the extraordinary new airport development (dubbed simply ‘the Expansion’) taking shape. It’s full steam ahead on that project with a 24/7 workforce in place to ensure all is complete in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be hosted in Qatar.
As I have documented many times on our main website, Hamad International and Qatar Duty Free parent company Qatar Airways has performed magnificently during the pandemic, flying more miles than any other carrier on the planet. A key part of its remit has been to get people home during the crisis and in the process it has won many admirers all around the globe.
They include me. I have been hugely impressed by all aspects of the Qatar Airways experience from check-in and boarding at Heathrow through to the pleasantness and professionalism of the crew on this leg to Hong Kong. Like its airport and retailer sister organisations, here’s a company unwavering in its commitment to the consumer experience.
As I write, I’m just under an hour out of Hong Kong International Airport, another of my favourite gateways, but one where a very different experience awaits.
There we will be tested for COVID-19 and then taken to a hotel until we get our results. Given that I have ‘shielded’ for the past few months due to pre-existing health conditions I confess to being a little nervous. But such has been the professionalism and focus on customer safety at Heathrow Airport, Hamad International and onboard Qatar Airways, that I am a whole lot more relaxed than I would otherwise have been after flying all the way from London.
Relaxed is no longer a word that springs to mind. The COVID-19 testing procedure at Hong Kong International Airport shows just how seriously the Chinese authorities are taking the global pandemic. And rightly so.
Upon arrival in Hong Kong (we got in not long after midnight), passengers are asked to fill in various forms, have a wrist tag fixed, download a quarantine app, and complete immigration procedures before being escorted to collect their luggage and then bused to the AsiaWorld-Expo.
There, each passenger sits in a cavernous hall and watches an instruction video before undergoing a deep saliva test. They are then reacquainted with their luggage and bused to the Regal Oriental Hotel in Kowloon City, home to the Holding Centre for Test Results (HCTR) of the Department of Health, where everyone awaits their test results.
As the bus pulled up to the hotel, the severity of the situation was brought home again as several HCTR employees, all wearing PPE, emerged from the hotel to assist passengers and explain the strict hotel confinement procedures. Intimidating? A little. Scary? Definitely. Justifiable? Absolutely.
This is a disease that has killed almost 670,000 people worldwide, though only 24 in Hong Kong thanks to an excellent combination of civic and official responsibility. However, a recent spike (nearly 500 new cases in the past five days) is causing major concern and there is simply no room for anything other than rigorous controls.
The staff at HKIA and the HCTR are doing an amazing job. They are brisk and firm but also very helpful. Frontline heroes and heroines each one of them.
At 1pm the call came to our room that we were all clear. Never have I been so happy to check out of an Interim Moodie Davitt Bureau. But never I have been so admiring of hotel staff.