How China Duty Free Group is leading the virtual-physical charge

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

Morning has broken over Discovery Bay and although it’s late September another 30 degrees-plus day looks on order. Time to take in the beauty of the bay, watch the planes over the hills in the distance ascend from or descend towards Hong Kong International Airport, and take a few deep breaths before the hard slog of a full weekend of work in the run-up to our Virtual Travel Retail Expo in just 16 days’ time.

It’s day and night stuff at the moment with a myriad of pre-recorded interviews to be done for the Knowledge Hub programme at the Expo as well as a lot preparation for the live sessions. This year’s Expo is among the most challenging tasks we’ve ever set ourselves over the past 19 years and it comes on top of the day (and night) job of running a publication that is busier than ever.

The combination of volume and quality that our editorial team of Dermot Davitt, Hannah Tan-Gillies, Colleen Morgan and Mark Lane and me produce is a sight to see. Sometimes it feels as if we are writing the daily equivalent of Encyclopaedia Britannica but it’s worth it. We’re proud about what we do and each and every day we aim to do it better, while constantly trying to stretch the boundaries of innovation in areas such as our Virtual Travel Retail Expo, a project into which our technical team led by Matt Willey and Jess Howells; our commercial team led by Irene Revilla; and our brilliant event partners FILTR.QINGWA are pouring in superhuman commitment.

There are plenty of rewards for all that effort in the form of recognition from people whose voice I respect as opposed to the few perennial knockers out there. I like that George Soros quote “When you’re a catalyst for change, you make enemies – and I’m proud of the ones I’ve got.”

I think we are a catalyst for change but I don’t have many enemies, I am happy to say. But the ones I do have I would not want as my friends. I can think of one senior member of the travel retail establishment, for example, who has continually dissed and undermined our event over the past two years (never to my face of course), based not on any particular insight but because it represents change that the individual does not like.

Similarly I read an industry executive saying on social media this week, “Literally everyone is tired of virtual meetings” and apart from the awful tautology (‘literally’ means ‘exactly’) that is simply a load of tosh (‘tosh’ means ‘nonsense’). Try telling that to all the Chinese travel retailers who are not only attending our Virtual Travel Retail Expo in big numbers (190 from China Duty Free Group alone) but who are pouring heavy investment and immense creativity into their virtual stands.

China Duty Free Group (CDFG), for example, is creating its own digital emporium called CDFG City, a project that will underline why the Chinese in general and CDFG in particular are leading digital advancement in our sector. Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of joining CDFG President Charles Chen in an online signing ceremony (pictured below) to confirm CDFG’s role as Exclusive Strategic Cooperation Partner for our Expo. As I noted during the event, I have known Charles for many years, both of us having entered the travel retail industry in the same year, 1987. His commitment to the industry and over recent years his leadership of China Duty Free Group has been inspirational.

I saw the same passion and professionalism a few days back when I had the pleasure to lunch with the CDF International team in Hong Kong and visit, for the first time, their offices in Wan Chai. Deputy General Manager Celine Qiu; Deputy General Manager Frank Zhang and General Manager Maisy Au and their team of some 200 people are doing a stellar job in operating not only the company’s Hong Kong business but also its offshore operations and the highly demanding task of managing logistics into CDFG’s booming Hainan island activities.

This is where it all happens for CDF International in Hong Kong. With me at the Wan Chai headquarters are (from left) Frank Zhang, Celine Qiu and Maisy Au
CDF does a great line in company face masks. As a result, the ‘other’ Martin (my Kiehl’s mascot) in my office is now sure to remain COVID-free.

This week I popped into my old haunt of Tung Chung and took a look at the retailer’s latest store, Duty Zero by cdf, in the Citygate outlet mall. The new boutique wines & spirits store, adjacent to the main CDF Beauty shop, looks nice and has a lovely range of premium and rare offerings.

With encouraging news of a likely partial opening of the Mainland border with Hong Kong in the near term, together with strong online and local business, the Citygate operation seems well placed. As, of course, is CDFG’s overall business as the world’s number one travel retailer. Both digital and physical, that is. The story of travel retail going forward, whether we are talking commerce, activations or (yes) events.

Physical and virtual treadmills inside the Asia bureau of ‘the website that never sleeps’

The sun has come up now across the bay. Alas, that means it is time to get back to the day and night job. Actually, not alas at all, I love almost every moment of what I do. Not a single day is the same. Not a single day goes by without a new and often unexpected challenge. My Moodie Davitt Asia office is filling up fast with samples from entrants in The QDF Factor, the fantastic competition we’re holding at the Expo with Qatar Duty Free.

The winner will get a six-month listing with Qatar Duty Free and US$50k worth of advertising with us. Every entrant gets a complimentary page of advertising and an editorial profile, a great way, we think, to encourage and reward innovation. The range of concepts and ideas is fascinating and judging (together with Qatar Duty Free Vice President Operations Thabet Musleh) is going to be a headache of an unusually pleasant nature.

It won’t be quite all work this weekend though. At least not today. For at 3pm I have to stop for a matter of grave national importance. It is the 100th test match between my beloved All Blacks and their mightiest traditional foe, the Springboks of South Africa, precisely as fate would have it 100 years since the teams first clashed, during South Africa’s 1921 tour to New Zealand. And I can assure you that there will be nothing virtual about this particular event. It will be about as face to face as you can get.

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  • Martin, You must have been delighted your All blacks pulled it off in the latest of a century of clashes with the Springboks. That will set you up for the week.

    I was also delighted to see Tach the Hurler’s sports stick popping out from one of the bags in your office :). That looks like it will be a great competition at the QDF

    Keep up a great blog.

    Brendan.