In the heart of the dragon a travel retail revolution begins…

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

Can Beijing Capital International Airport T3’s commercial offer possibly live up to the magnificence of the terminal, opened earlier this month?

It’s the most daunting of challenges. And so far it’s hard to assess the Sunrise Duty Free-dominated retail portfolio in the international area as most of the stores won’t open until more airlines transfer over later in the month.

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But what’s obvious even from a whirlwind tour is the amount and quality of space that Sunrise has been given compared with the older terminals.

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Interestingly though, the duty paid offer in the domestic terminal – usually the poor relation of travel retail – may attract as much attention as the duty free stores.

Early last year The Moodie Report broke the news that Beijing Capital Airport Commercial Company (ACT) had appointed Global & Beijing International Co (GABICO) as its commercial partner for this area.

We quickly received a number of phone calls – who was GABICO? Who were the people behind it?  What were its premium and luxury brand credentials?

The first two answers were easy enough. GABICO was a new name but it had sprung from a long-established identity – powerful Dutch group B&S Global, which is steeped in the food, beverages, distribution and duty free sectors.

And any doubts as to whether it could create an upscale environment and safeguard the brand image of prospective partners were swiftly dispersed by the inspired appointment as Chairman of Claudine Kawiak (pictured below with GABICO China CEO Tammy Tian), an almost legendary figure in the luxury business, a woman who had carved out a still talked-about success story in Russia and its surrounding countries in the 1990s.

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Claudine not only has travel retail and luxury on her CV but also in her blood. Her father, Jacques Lemoin, founded the French duty free business, opening the first downtown duty free shop in Paris in 1948, catering mainly to Americans visiting Europe in the euphoria of the post-war years.

Later he created the first fragrance coffret, combining the best-sellers of the time in a boxed set of minatures, a concept that thrives to this day.

Amid the optimism, opportunity and chaos of the perestroika years she created calm and security for Cartier, which had had a negligible presence in the country until then. Soon a host of brand houses came knocking at her door, leading to the creation of the famed Hermitage distribution company in Moscow in 1994, co-founded with fellow entreprenuer Malik Youyou.

Hermitage became the largest and most successful luxury distributor in the former Soviet Union, representing over 40 names and building and opening over 70 stores.

“It was a fantastic time, very tough of course,” Claudine recalled while we drove to the airport this week. “But it was very exciting.” Her brand portfolio was a roll-call of fashion and luxury – Calvin Klein, Cartier, Christofle, Lalique, Shisheido, L’Oreal Prestige and many others.

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In 2003, partly driven by family reasons, Claudine (pictured above with Tammy Tian meeting ACT Chairman Qian Liqin this week during The Moodie Report’s visit) sold her shares to her partner and returned to living full-time in her native France. But by 2007 when Cees Wisser of B&S Global came calling, she was eager for a new challenge.

She was the perfect choice. “It is very challenging here and you need expertise to develop retail in a country like China,” she says. “I had the experience of Russia and also the understanding of luxury brands.”

So can the Kawiak lightning strike twice? Anyone who knows this remarkable woman would not bet against it. Here’s an individual who knows how to grapple with challenges, how to build a team and how to work with foreign partners in a spirit of cultural and commercial understanding.

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Take a look at the fine watches store pictured above or the classy execution of the Zegna and Dunhill boutiques below. They represent a step change from anything seen in Mainland Chinese airports to date.

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Claudine Kawiak may not be from Beijing but she has surely embraced the sense of mission of its people in Olympics year. In the heart of the dragon that is Beijing Capital International Airport a travel retail revolution has begun.

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