Time to abandon the rear view mirror

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

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released
– I shall be released, Bob Dylan

It’s just gone 6a.m and I’m into day 9 of 14 in my Interim Hung Hom Quarantine Bureau, starting to ponder my escape to freedom next Saturday midnight.

Even in a hotel as nice as the Kerry, the attractions of being confined indoors for a fortnight start to wane pretty steeply by this point. I’ve taken to walking multiple laps of my room to try to offset the sedentary effect of a routine based on sitting at my table/desk from early morning often to late night with time off for three (very decent) meals served in disposable dishes and a bit of television.

It takes me 12 strides to walk the approximate 10-metre length of my room. That means 150 ‘laps’ or 1,800 strides to do my equivalent of 1,500 metres. Today I plan to set a new personal best in a probably futile attempt to delay the onset of madness.

As mentioned in my last Blog, I am one of the lucky ones of the many people I know who have served their quarantine time here in Hong Kong. The Kerry Hotel tries extremely hard to normalise an experience that is anything but normal, adding on lots of little touches such as complimentary fruit bowls with kind hand-written notes and even a Friday evening comparative wine tasting on Zoom (perhaps they should serve Zoomfandel). Kind people such as Sue Lewis from Sisley and Sunil Tuli from King Power Group (HK) have also ensured that my own wine supplies remain topped up.

And there’s the view. Oh the view. Is there any city landscape in the world more majestic than that from Kowloon looking across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong island? Every time I glance up from my screen the panorama in front of me is like a fresh painting, sometimes due to the ever-changing weather, other times from the multiplicity and variety of boats making their way along or across the harbour.

You can people watch too. From pre-dawn to late at night, the waterfront promenade five floors below is constantly alive with joggers and walkers, keeping fit on what must amount to the world’s most bewitching running track.

The multiplicity of TV channels – local Hong Kong, Mainland, Arab and western – lends varying perspectives on our increasingly dark and disturbing world. The pandemic dominates every station you tune into, though in recent days the climate change disaster that is seeing large chunks of the earth go up in flames and the human and political catastrophe that is Afghanistan are getting plenty of airplay.

What an appalling indictment of mankind’s behaviour both represent. As the Taliban sets back women’s rights several centuries and slaughter those who do not align with their cretinous philosophy, the western superpowers look away sheepishly from their shameless abandonment of the Afghan people.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee on Sunday afternoon. How appropriate for this snake of a politician. Fellow Tory MP Tom Tugendhat called the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan Britain’s biggest foreign policy disaster since the 1956 Suez crisis.

British newspapers devote front page coverage to the unfolding Afghanistan debacle

The US government, which has been committed to full troop withdrawal since the Trump administration, says it “miscalculated” the relative strengths of the Taliban and the now fallen Afghan regime. While the west may, alas, pay the price of the more serious miscalculation – leaving in the first place – it is others who will suffer the real cost.

Click on image to read the full CNN article

Malala Yousafzai, the courageous woman who was shot in the head by Taliban officers in 2012 and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, said: “We watch in complete shock as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates.”

The likely fate of all three groups makes you shudder. And let’s add Afghan translators, shamefully left behind to fend for themselves, and journalists to that list. Afghan journalists, particularly women, are “absolutely petrified”, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward said on Sunday. “They’ve been doing bold and incredible reporting for many years, and now there’s a very real fear that they might face retaliations for that… some of these journalists and reporters know that they have a big X on their backs… because they have been so outspoken against the Taliban.”

How far has humanity really advanced since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted on 10 December 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly?

The Declaration – said to be the most widely translated document in history – commits nations to recognise all humans as being “born free and equal in dignity and rights” regardless of “nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status”.

Yeah, right. Try telling that to the Taliban in the gruesome months and probably decades that lie ahead.

Meanwhile another great western debacle – its response to the COVID-19 crisis – rumbles on. Yesterday the US saw 38,839 new cases; the UK 26,750; France and Russia both over 21,000. And China, a nation of 1.4 billion? Just 53 cases, 29 of which were imported.

This Worldometer table shows the countries worst-hit by COVID-19. Click on image to see numbers from all countries.

To bring this alarming situation back to the travel retail sector it strikes me once again that the rear view mirror of 2019 should be abandoned. Our world – and therefore our industry – is made up of those countries that are adopting a ‘learn to live with it’ approach to COVID-19 and those such as China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand that will keep their borders shut for some time yet while vaccination rates rise and new variants are (hopefully) kept at bay.

In travel retail terms, for the second group that means a domestic focus – a prospect rendered much brighter in China and South Korea due to the presence of a thriving offshore duty free channel. For the former group, international travel numbers will continue to grow but on a rebased level.

This morning the Singapore government announced that it will begin to reopen borders from September for vaccinated people to travel without having to serve a 14-day stay home notice. Gatwick Airport in the UK said last week that it is now projecting 2022 passenger traffic to hit 72% of 2019 levels. I am sure the airport company and its commercial partners such as Dufry would settle for that. Some positive signs then.

Good news from Singapore as the prospect of more normalised travel for (vaccinated) Singaporeans gets a boost. Click on the image to read the full article.

How does our industry best leverage the combo of improving traffic numbers in those countries with some semblance of restored international travel and strong volumes in those with a dominant focus on domestic tourism (and therefore domestic duty free)? The answer to that rather wordy question is what will shape the fortunes of each and every enterprise in our sector in the year ahead.

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