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This week I had the rare and welcome chance to spend some quality time with Magnus Skjörshammer, Director of Business Development at Estonian cruise and ferry company Tallink. I see Magnus frequently at trade shows and we are in touch regularly by email. But as so often in this business, it’s only when you sit down and really spend time with someone that you really learn about their business.
Tallink is a giant of the cruise and ferry world, the Baltic Sea region’s largest passenger and cargo shipping company. It operates on Estonia to Finland, Estonia to Sweden, Latvia to Sweden and Finland to Sweden routes, on which it generates enormous retail and food & beverage revenues.
Tallink’s shops and restaurant sales (including onshore) in 2018 reached €524.4 million, over half (55%) of the listed company’s total revenues of €950 million. That performance ranked the company 24th in The Moodie Davitt Report’s annual Top 25 Travel Retailers league (Starboard Cruise Services is the only marine retailer ranked higher).
But what I didn’t know until my dinner with Magnus was just how much of that business is generated from high-end skincare, spirits and wine. Tallink is generating enormous sales of Krug and Dom Perignon Champagne, for example, and luxury skincare brands such as Dior and La Mer. Just ensuring supply keeps up with demand is a constant challenge, Magnus told me, particularly at this time of year.
That increasingly upscale mix is being driven by a diverse passenger mix, which includes a lot of high-spending Chinese, Russians and Scandinavia-domiciled Middle Eastern consumers. No wonder Tallink was so upbeat about its commercial operations during the company’s 30th anniversary celebrations in September that it revealed it was studying opportunities elsewhere in the world (including Asia), not just at sea but also in airports. Watch this space.
We dined, by the way at Comptoir Libanais in Poland Street, London. What a brilliant concept founder Tony Kitous created with Comptoir Libanais and what an amazing success story it has become (I think its Gatwick and Heathrow operations are among the world’s best airport restaurants). Tony was a keynote speaker at our Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) Conference in Geneva in 2016, and was a star of the show, outlining his life story and how he emerged from humble beginnings in Algeria to become a champion of Mediterranean food and flavours in the UK (and now beyond).
His formula (see his message below) is simple enough but he delivers it triumphantly. Great food (and plenty of it), really good Lebanese wine (in our case a Prieure Ksara Rouge from Château Ksara), top staff including the superbly hospitable Pepe (pictured) and a brilliant melange of colours splashed around the restaurant that offset any winter blues and make you feel like you’re in a Mediterranean summer.