Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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Good morning Ladies & Gentlemen and welcome to the 2014 Trinity Forum. My name is Martin Moodie, Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report and I’m delighted to be here with you in the great city of Bangkok…
Hold on… I am in Bangkok, but where is everyone else?
After a brilliant onboard experience with Etihad from London via Abu Dhabi, I duly arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday morning, when of course The Trinity Forum was due to kick off in the Thai capital.
Alas, due to the worsening Thai political unrest, we had to take the decision a few weeks ago to postpone the event to September. So I was probably one of the very few non-Thailand-based travel retail executives in Bangkok yesterday.
Even that was temporary, as I flew straight from Bangkok to Hong Kong. I did not say ‘straightforward’ of course as in my inimitable tradition I managed to lose my UK passport somewhere in Abu Dhabi or on the flight from Bangkok. Now, I have managed to lose about 27 mobile phones down the years; I have mislaid (a nice euphemism) many a Blackberry; my depreciation of phone chargers must run into triple figures; a briefcase or two have been separated from me on occasion (but always reclaimed) along the way; but never, ever a passport.
Now, if you are asking how I managed to enter Hong Kong, the answer is that I still retain my Kiwi passport (pictured via my iPhone, I have… er… lost my camera charger en route), thank the good lord of Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud). That will serve me nicely on my next leg, back to Bangkok (en route to Krabi for a quick break, booked believing that Trinity would take place) and later on through Abu Dhabi and back into the UK.
The latter’s notoriously churlish immigration officers will no doubt disbelieve my tale of being a UK passport holder and I will be made to wait around for 30 to 45 minutes while they check (ok… I said I had not ‘lost’ my UK passport before, but the truth is that I have mislaid it temporarily on occasions, so I know the form at Heathrow).
The loss is something of a mystery as I doubt I would have been allowed on the plane from Abu Dhabi without it yet it sure as hell was not with me, or under my seat etc., when I arrived in Bangkok. The chances of it being stolen on the plane seem unlikely (would anyone really like to look like me?) so I will put it down to a senior moment, of which I am increasingly prone. Or someone spiked my Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The brilliant Etihad Airways team, led by Anna Brownell, Head of Product Development & Innovation Guest Experience, is doing their best to locate the missing document but I fear it is now in the hands of an international drug dealer, forever to be known as Stanley (ouch), Martin Middleton (double ouch) Moodie…
Never mind, I have arrived in Hong Kong, one of my favourite places (and travel retail locations) and have a packed schedule for the next couple of days, including attending King Power Group HK’s annual dinner, which is always brilliant fun, on Friday night and which should set me up nicely for a 6am rise the next day to Bangkok.
As mentioned in my earlier Blog, I was exceedingly impressed by everything about the Etihad Airways experience. Although I slept most of the second leg away (Abu Dhabi to Bangkok), the same qualities of genuinely interested, engaging and informed staff (David from Kenya, who led the team, was a thoroughly likable, totally professional, young man) and first-rate food & wine and onboard facilities again shone through. The reason I always talk to staff, whether onboard, in shops or in restaurants and hotels, is that I learn so much from them. Everybody has a story, not only their own but also that gleaned from working in a particular role. No-one but no-one, I promise you, understands the habits of travelling consumers (good, bad and definitively ugly) better than cabin crew. No-one, but no-one, knows about hotel guests better than housemaids.
I made a brief mention yesterday of Etihad’s inflight duty free programme. That was because I had only taken a brief look. Last night in Hong Kong I delved more deeply. I have little time for those who constantly criticise (or shun) the inflight retail channel. In that regard I am watching closely the online response to the comments made by industry veteran Rakhita Jayawardena (below) at this week’s Airline Retail Conference (ARC) in Singapore.
Discussing the decision by at least two major French brands to withdraw in full or in part from the inflight channel, Rakhita said: “Therefore, if this passenger is denied the availability of a certain product or brand onboard their selected airline, but that same passenger can have the product available to him at the airport retail shops, is that fair and is it correct?
“Who are the brands partnering with? The travel retail industry – or just some of the travel retail industry? Why is there selective distribution to the passengers? Small or big, scheduled or low cost, the travelling consumer should be a valued passenger and potential shopper. Therefore, why have some of the supply partners begun to treat the airline customers differently?
“Such practices not only show contempt for and, I believe, commercial differentiation against, the airlines but contempt for the travelling consumer by dictating where they can buy. And it’s short-sighted.”
Good stuff Mr Jayawardena. Here’s how Chim Esteban (who, through Landmark, runs the P&C and fashion sub-concessions for Duty Free Philippines), one of the industry’s most experience travel retailers, responded: “The state of the travel retail partnerships are at their most fragile point in my opinion. The growing strength of the brands and their use of that strength is a true threat to the travel retail channel. More and more we are seeing how easy it is for brands to dismiss the TR channel when it becomes convenient.”
Are they right? Not in everyone’s eyes. Here are a couple of alternative opinions aired via our ‘Disqus’ feedback service.
From ‘James’ came this comment: “Of course it is also a two way street; there are many instances where liquor brands that are sold into the inflight channel show up in domestic markets around the world undercutting local route to market and brand building activities. This activity calls into question whether the inflight channel is a business in which brand owners should participate.
And from ‘Harry’, who wrote: “On the flip side, DF airline operators have been doing “selective brand” offering as well… like LCC’s are being ignored, so are smaller brands. I certainly do not agree with selective retailing, but that said, the DF airline operators should open their door to smaller brands as well. It is a two-way street. It’s time for some operator to undertake a blue ocean strategy.”
That debate has been running as long as I have been in the business and I suspect it will be running for a long time yet…
Back to Etihad. Its inflight duty free magazine ‘Boutique’ is a near-150 page, glossy magazine, packed with content and many new and exclusive offers. As mentioned yesterday I do like the ‘Style from Arabia’, a double-page spread featuring these lovely ‘Sougha’ iPad covers individually handmade by local Emirati women using ancient Bedouin weaving techniques from 100% cotton and Emirati camel leather. The brand takes its name from a Khalifa Fund initiative designed to preserve Emirati heritage and contribute to socio-economic development in rural Dubai.
There’s also a nice bound-in timepieces supplement (given added emphasis by being smaller than the main magazine and on heavier paper), with some items nicely paired with recommended fashion items, also on sale. I do like the sound of the Veliocitech Video Camera Watch (US$159) with integrated video, camera and microphone.
Having been chased out of more duty free stores than, I am prepared to wager, just about anyone for taking photos, this could come in very useful indeed, as it allows the user to shoot videos with sound at 30 frames per second, take photos and make audio recordings then download via a USB cable.
Elsewhere, a Kyutec pen in the excellent gadgets section, also has video and photo functions. A word of warning. A very well-known retailer in this business was stopped at Dubai International and questioned for some time by security last year for possessing such a pen (a different brand), so I would advise care in using in sensitive places. There’s even an onboard helicopter – no, not the real thing, but a brilliant model that can be flown to a range of 30 metres using your smart phone as a remote control. It comes from the aforementioned Rakhita Jayawardena’s Centaur Travel Retail, so next time you see Rakhita with a smartphone in his hand, prepare to take cover fast.
The beauty section includes 18 pages of cosmetics, skincare and colour and a whopping 28-page women’s perfumes section, full of newness and high-class reproduction. What a shame there’s no Chanel. Or is it?