Seeing old friends in Dubai and making new ones in Ho Chi Minh City

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

If my epitaph is not ‘free of duty at last’ it will surely be ‘final call’ {Picture: P. Dorais}

I’m back in Ho Chi Minh City, one of my favourite destinations, after far too many years away.

My world tour (day 23 of 85) is continuing with a close look at what surely ranks as one of the world’s most exciting travel & tourism sectors.

Before the pandemic, tourism – like the wider economy – was on fire but after an initially impressive response to COVID, the official fourth wave in 2021 saw a surge in case numbers (contibuting to the highest total in Southeast Asia).  The associated long-term shutdown of the country’s borders had a predictably devastating impact on aviation and tourism.

Now the country is open again. Vietnam dropped COVID-19 testing requirements for all international arrivals from 15 May as case numbers plummeted in the wake of high vaccination rates. The government had also suspended the medical declaration requirement for all international arrivals from 27 April.

Having spent the weekend here, it feels like COVID never happened. On Saturday night the city was absolutely buzzing, the bars and restaurants packed, the streets alive with all the clamour any pre-2020 visitor would remember.

Crossing the road in the face of Ho Chi Minh City’s relentless advance of motorcycles feels a bigger danger here than COVID

I’m spending some quality time this week with IPP Group, a powerhouse of travel retail; distribution (including fashion, luxury, tobacco, consumer technology, beauty products, and wines & spirits); airport advertising and food & beverage. IPP is even set to launch its own cargo airline, called IPP Cargo, in coming weeks. What a force IPP Group is. The company has received over 350 different recognitions of its contribution to the nation’s society and economy.

Founder and Chairman Johnathan Hanh Nguyen – whom I will have the honour of interviewing on Wednesday – ranks not only as one of the great travel retail pioneers but also as one of the most honoured and respected businessmen in Vietnam for his contribution to the nation.

Johnathan Hanh Nguyen, one of the key figures in the development of airport commercial revenues, travel retail and luxury distribution in Southeast Asia 

IPP Group is a family concern and today I took breakfast with one of Johnathan’s sons, Phillip, who serves as Chief Executive Officer at IPP Travel Retail and Vice President Project Development. If I had a quarter of Phillip’s energy I would be on permanent overdrive. He’s equally full of ideas and more importantly he makes them happen.

Today we visited Vietcetera media, a brilliantly named and fast-growing consumer media and events company that is going places fast. Phillip and I chatted with Co-founder Hao Tran about the youth, dynamism and rapid evolution of Vietnamese society, a country of 98 million people of whom Gen Y alone make up an estimated 35%.

Via a range of digital media platforms Vietcetera talks about the issues that matter to young Vietnamese people with relevance and urgency. The company contributes in other ways too, having just launched the Vietnam Innovators Fund, which seeks to address the underserved needs of start-ups in Vietnam.

With Phillip Nguyen (right) and Vietcetera Co-founders Hao Tran (left) and Guy Truong (second right)
Vietcetera partners with an impressively diverse range of partners, from Durex to Diageo, all seeking to engage with Vietnam’s young adult consumer base via the platform’s intelligent and progressive content 

More on Vietnam soon and look out for a fuller evaluation in my post-visit report next month.

On the way to Ho Chi Minh City, I stopped for a night in Dubai to see Colm and Breeda McLoughlin.

I count the long-time (39 years and counting) Dubai Duty Free supremo and his wife among my closest friends in the business but had missed them during my first Dubai stopover earlier in the month due to them both having COVID.

I am glad to report that both have bounced back quickly and it was a delight to share a glass or two and catch up on all that has happened in the 27 months since we saw each other last due to the pandemic.

Dubai Duty Free is storming back to form, outpacing strong passenger traffic growth with ATVs running at record highs and sales currently up +104% year-on-year and fast recovering towards 2019 levels.

On landing at Terminal 3, I shopped in the Dubai Duty Free arrivals store (eventually buying, as is my want, a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc). Is there a better arrivals store in the world? Is there a better wine offer? The diversity of range (and clear segmentation of it) is superb.

Good to see the Givenchy + Glenmorangie dual promotion I covered recently resonating with customers
Every picture tells a story but this one portrays a particularly important one. In October 2020, Israel and the UAE announced a mutual visa exemption agreement, allowing Israeli citizens and Emirati citizens to visit each other’s countries visa-free. Dubai Duty Free, as always, was quick to spot an opportunity.

Vietnam also has arrivals duty free and on landing at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, I noted the extensive work being done by JALUX DFS for what promises to be a blockbuster new store due to open soon.

Timing is everything in business and never more so than during the emergence from a crisis on this scale. Hoardings like this are a symbol of aviation and tourism recovery and I can tell you that Vietnam will be right up there among the leaders of that revival.

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