A day of triumph and loss, delight and despair at Changi

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

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…”

– Rudyard Kipling

Well my last Blog wasn’t so far from the mark after all…

For, just a few hours later, this time I CAN reveal the results of the Singapore Changi Airport duty free liquor & tobacco and perfumes & cosmetics tenders. Or I would, except that I already have done so, fresh (or not) off a plane from Asia this morning.

The one time I hate being in the sky is when I know a big story, and I mean a really big story, is about to break. Changi Airport Group had promised they were on track for a January announcement and the drums had been beating for several days that it could come as early as this week.

And so it came to pass. This morning, London time, was about as hectic a day as I can remember in travel retail publishing, as one sought to prepare all the potential outcomes, firm up then nail the story, then with seriously alarming speed when all became official (DFS retaining liquor & tobacco; Shilla Travel Retail scoring a sensational victory in perfumes & cosmetics), publish the news.

One day, when I return to my native New Zealand and the family sheep farm, I will write my Moodie Report memoirs (entitled ‘Free of Duty at last) and describe the excitement, sensitivities, temptations, traps, responsibilities and rewards of breaking a story such as this. In my role it’s like being the conductor of an orchestra while also playing first violin (and sometimes bassoon, trumpet and drum). Sometimes in my guise as a highly strung quartet I simply throw the baton at my perennially calm co-conductor Dermot Davitt and cry “Yours!” and vice-versa.

The rest of the Moodie ensemble, all virtuosos in their own right, kick in at various stages (of research, lay-out, proof-reading, graphics and electronic distribution), not just in the hectic premiere but in the performances that follow, notably detailed analysis within hours across varying media formats.

I am sure reporting looks easier than it is. But believe me, in such circumstances it is seriously stress-inducing. Everything you write will be read around the world almost instantly (within 15 minutes of our story breaking this morning, for example, 793 readers had opened it, just a few hours later the tally reached 3,324 and rising. UPDATE: By 07.00 London time Wednesday the number had risen to 4,187 ‘opens’ out of 7,957 e-mails, a remarkable penetration rate, underlining the intense interest in the story. And that number excludes the very significant reader traffic that went straight to the story on our website ).

Of course you want to be first. Yet most of all you have to be factual. And you also have to be fair. All at once. Always under grave time pressure. Never forget, especially in the age of instant media, that many of the loser’s (or losers’ in this case) employees will be hearing the news for the first time via your report. Never forget the old adage that one man’s triumph is another man’s heartbreak (and vice-versa).  While Champagne corks are popping in one company, elsewhere executives and employees will be shedding tears and pondering their futures. Don’t believe it was any different today. Consider the disappointment not only at Nuance-Watson but also at Lotte, the latter so close yet so far again in a major Changi contest, this time in two bids.

In the brutal winner-takes-all contest that is airport retail tendering, every result produces starkly varying emotions. I feel very much today for the outstanding Ken Tse and his wonderful team at Nuance-Watson (Singapore), who have done such an excellent job at Changi for many years. Can you imagine Ken relating the news to his team today as he must have had to? And I know it will have been a desperately hard call to make to the Nuance team by the Changi Airport management, who have handled themselves so impeccably throughout this taut, drawn-out affair.

Equally one can just sense the joy at The Shilla Duty Free, the Korean travel retailer that has done such an outstanding job with perfumes & cosmetics at Incheon International Airport (as well as downtown) in recent times. Today’s news is a seminal moment not only in Shilla’s history but in that of Korean travel retail.


[An artist’s impression, courtesy of Changi Airport Group, of Shilla Travel Retail’s ambitious Changi plans]

And what of DFS, retaining its long-term liquor & tobacco incumbency ahead of fiercely competitive bids (both financially and creatively) from Lotte Duty Free and Nuance-Watson (Singapore)?

DFS is on some roll alright, continuing exactly where it left off last year, in the process truly reclaiming its former credentials as a giant of the airport wines & spirits and tobacco sectors to balance its unrivalled downtown luxury business.

Winning Hong Kong International and Singapore Changi in rapid succession spells big business and a fundamental transformation of Asia’s travel retail landscape in these categories. And you know the most important thing about those successes? It’s the absolute determination (make that obsession) internally at DFS to raise the quality bar to a whole new level.

Yes, DFS is as capable of aggressive financial bids as anyone (and more so than most) and no doubt went hell for leather for the Changi contract (both contracts in fact). But if what Changi Airport Group tells us about the ambition of the DFS liquor & tobacco bid is even half true we are in for something very special indeed.

It’s not just DFS, of course, that is intent on raising that bar. As Changi Airport Group noted all along the line, the quality of the lead submissions, including Nuance-Watson and the other close runner-up Lotte, was of the highest order. While the perennial debate about the level of financial bids will (rightly) rage on, one should not ignore the extraordinary rise in the quality of those offers, something that has accelerated dramatically in the past two to three years.

I’m sure we’ll hear much more tomorrow from the winners, and maybe something from those who fell just short. It has been a day that will be long remembered in travel retail history. A day of exhilaration and despair. A day when, as Kipling would have it, two impostors came face to face.


[The new-look Changi offer will feature the world’s first airport duplex stores for liquor (pictured) and beauty]

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