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I’m on a flying visit to Mumbai this week, and in the few hours since I stepped off the plane from Heathrow have already had the senses well stirred (and occasionally shaken), reminding me that there is nowhere else on earth like India, this country of stunning contrasts.
There are the walls of art that adorn the Arrivals zone in T2, unique among airports and rightly a source of pride for the GVK team I met today. It’s just a shame travellers are so hell bent on lining up at immigration a few yards further on to really take in the surroundings.
Around the airport there’s a remarkable number of luxury hotels, each vying with the other for entertainment options, quality food and great hospitality. I visited several as we narrow down our choice of venue for this year’s Trinity Forum, and the standard has been superb. More on our venue soon.
Then there’s the quality of luxury retail downtown, which has risen and risen in recent years; I’m meeting the editors of several leading luxury travel titles tomorrow to discuss luxury in India – ahead of a major opening by DFS & Flemingo on Thursday, to which we are delighted to have been invited.
But there is of course another India. There’s the scary but exhilarating time you spend in the back of almost any cab being shaken to your core as you avoid the oncoming vehicles/farm animals/people.
And there’s another less palatable but stark contrast with the five-star luxury hotels, upscale branded boutiques or walls of art, just yards from the airport’s doors.
As anyone who knows Mumbai will attest, the crippling poverty just moments away from the airport offers a depressing glimpse into the realities of life here for many. It’s also a reminder of the privileges of living in the first world, where it’s all too easy to switch off from the hopelessness that many people here live with day to day.
Back to the airport, and strong messages of another sort. If you needed a reminder of just how price-driven airport duty free is in India, look no further than the country’s Arrivals stores. Here in Mumbai, the impressive DFS-Flemingo store features some neat brand executions, but the overwhelming impression is of the aggressive price-off and price-comparison drive, notably in the key category, liquor.
The key reference points are Mumbai city, Heathrow, Bangkok and Dubai, with claims of X percent off each (online too, there are comparisons with Changi Airport, another key rival, though like Mumbai, a DFS liquor location).
Yet it’s a necessary part of the airport, and duty free positioning, GVK management will tell you. Watch out for its next steps coming soon: an app that tracks the pricing of these key reference airports on key references in real time. Like the drive to encourage pre-order and pick-up it’s all part of a wider plan: to get Indians spending at home rather than abroad.
GVK has other big plans too, not least a major project that ties a key airline partner together with its duty free business, and much, much more on the digital side. We’ll bring you more on these developments soon. Or better still, come to The Trinity Forum on 12-14 September and hear about and see them for yourself.