Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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And so my final work day of the year – and of the decade – begins.
It is 5.19 a.m. as my regular morning routine kicks off. A pot of strong coffee on the go, its warm, nutty aromas wafting through to my work desk in the next room. Spotify turned on to ensure the constant backdrop of music that I finds fuels the rhythm of writing. My tastes are eclectic, from my beloved Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Mark Knopfler and Leonard Cohen to Nick Lowe, Bill Fay and a wide suite of classical and world music – as I write I am listening to the beautifully melancholic Yue liang dai biao wo de xin (月亮代表我的心) by the late, incomparable Teresa Teng [I find I type fastest to Sergei Rachmaninov’s sublime Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Opus 30 (1)].
A quick scouring of key news websites (CNN, BBC and my perennial friend Mr Google are my go-to options) and then a careful scan of the dozens of emails that have come in through the night since I shut down around 11 the night before.
Any big breaking news from the industry, most likely given the hour from the Americas, Australasia or Asia? Any world events that require a travel retail perspective?
Today, 31 December 2019, the final day of the 2010s, is little different, albeit a touch quieter due to many people in the industry – and my whole team other than Dermot Davitt who co-mans the desk with me throughout the festive season – being on holiday.
But one email garners my attention. It is from Christina Attwood, my Hong Kong-based Business Development Director, who has been holidaying with her family on Boracay, an idyllic island paradise in the Philippines. Except there was nothing idyllic for anyone who was on Boracay on Christmas Day as typhoon Ursula (known outside the Philippines as Phanfone) smashed into the tiny 11sq km land mass.
Ursula is believed to have killed at least 47 people, and damaged or destroyed over 378,000 houses across the country, according to the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Boracay took a terrible pounding, turning from a tropical island dream come true into a living nightmare for all those residents, workers and tourists trapped there as the storm raged.
“Sorry for the lack of response to your emails before now but you may have seen that Boracay had a huge typhoon on the 25th and we have been out of contact since then,” Christina wrote. “All phone lines were down and there was no internet at all. It is back now but intermittent. The banks are still out and the island was pretty much destroyed. We are all well though, thankfully.”
The last line is, of course, all that matters. I turned to Google and searched the word Boracay. This time the news was not of the island’s tourism recovery post its six-month closure in 2018 to clean up its deteriorating environment, nor of its famed white sand beaches, pretty coves and island-hopping opportunities. Here’s an excerpt from reporter Dave Kendall’s article in the Bangkok Post: A trip around the island the following day revealed scenes of devastation. The area around the road up to Mt Luho looked like it had been carpet-bombed.
The concrete structures were mostly intact, but the wooden houses were in ruins, the sheets of corrugated iron that served as roofs nestled among piles of downed tree branches. In some areas, half of the trees had been toppled, along with many electricity poles, with trailing power cables and debris leaving scant room for vehicles to thread their way through.
“I am so hot and so tired and I haven’t slept in two days,” [local resident] Jill Yvette Alipongan, 26, said. “But many people here have lost their homes. This is life in the Philippines.”
Travel retail is often affected by natural disaster (in this case tourists on the island could not access ATMs and therefore had no money to spend; and tourism will largely stop through the recovery period) but the commercial consequences (which I sometimes feel guilty writing about but have to) pale alongside the sufferings of the local people.
So my main concern in immediately contacting Jose Maria ‘Chim’ N. Esteban III, the great pioneer of travel retail in the Philippines (Chairman of Landmark Management Services and Landmark Management P&C and founder of Regent Travel Retail Group), was not to check up on his Boracay business but to ensure that he and his family (they often visit the island) were safe and well.
In typical Chim style, he replied immediately (by WhatsApp), quickly dismissed “a bit of flooding and damage in our stores” to make the much more important point, “But most importantly, all our staff were ok. We shall overcome.”
After adding ‘Boracay tourism update’ to my already lengthy ‘to do’ list, I return to my emails. My now good friend Mirko Wang, founder of Chinese duty free price comparison platform Jessica’s Secret, has sent me a great little story featuring the 20 words most searched by Chinese Consumers on King Power International’s Chinese Website (which Jessica’s Secret developed for the Thai travel retailer).
I won’t spoil the story here (look for it later today on our main site) but let’s just say it is good news for L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, in particular. I had already done a similar exercise examining the buzzwords of 2019 on our website and comparing their level of usage with a decade earlier. The findings are fascinating and you can see them in our final eZine of the year, also out later today.
For once, I’m actually hoping this won’t be a busy news morning. I have a backlog of feature writing that feels as mountainous as the Himalayas and the Christmas break is a rare opportunity to eat away it.
This is the work I love the most, special projects based on visits I have made, people I have met, interviews I have conducted. I am working on no fewer than three special eZines (our hugely popular Spotlight Series) that must be published by mid-January. Each is a complex but fascinating project, one on the new Daxing Airport, one on the partnership between Camus Cognac and Kweichow Moutai and one that must remain secret for a few weeks.
And so we reach into a new decade. The 2010s nearly gone. How did that happen? It seems just yesterday that I was walking along the banks of the Thames in the darkness of a chilly London night as we ushered in the new millennium. Equally, it feels like the blink of an eyelid since I launched this company in early 2002 from my garden shed (the ‘Worldwide Headquarters) that I am gazing out on as I write from the slightly warmer confines of my dining room.
2020. It has such a magic ring about it. So many references come to mind. The roaring 20s of the 20th century – will we see a repeat of that frenetic age of mass consumerism, economic buoyancy and technical innovation (radios and washing machines, for example came into popular usage)? As I write in my ‘From the Publisher’ column in today’s eZine, I suspect that this time around the 20s will be much more Asia-dominated and digitally rather than mechanically themed.
Certainly that will be the case for the ‘website that never sleeps’ (and I can promise you, it doesn’t) and indeed our whole media stable.
Break down the components of 2020 to an equation. 20 + 20 = 40. And next year just happens to be the 40th anniversary of China’s duty free industry. As a result, I will be spending much more of my time in China next year, writing about the 2020 (and beyond) vision of China Duty Free Group, CNSC and numerous Chinese airport companies. Similarly, I can promise an unrelenting focus on innovation in keeping with our reputation as a pioneer digital disruptor (in our case of the legacy print publishing model).
As I conclude this Blog, daylight is breaking in London. The early morning shift has begun for the finches and sparrows in the garden just outside my window as they take their fill from the feeders that I repleted last night. Such a simple delight to watch birds feed and to listen to their song. It is their final breakfast of the year as this is my final Blog.
I’m as excited about the new decade as I was about the turn of the century, way back then on the banks of the Thames. Together with my long-term friend, colleague and (since 2015) business partner Dermot Davitt and my outstanding team, we plan to come roaring into the 20s, charged with a commitment and a passion to do what we do better, to constantly try new things, and to champion and invest in corporate social responsibility.
New Year’s Eve is not just a time of celebration but of reflection. As always, when one year gives way to another, we all inevitably think of those we have lost. Those thoughts are forever captured in the song that will roar out into the night all around the world in coming hours, the bitter-sweet words of Scottish poet Robert Burns put so poignantly to music.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!
Thank you to all my acquaintances and readers, auld and new, for being with me and us on the journey that was the 2010s. Let the new decade begin.