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I’m in Taipei on my last business trip of what has been a long, tiring but exhilirating year.
I’m here to meet the management from Ever Rich DFS, to prepare a coffee table book on the company’s 18th anniversary (an auspicious landmark in Chinese culture), which they celebrate in 2013.
Those celebrations kick off in late February with the Grand Opening Ceremony of Ever Rich Duty Free Plaza in Neihu, Taipei, which had its soft opening last month. A day later Ever Rich will take an industry delegation to Kinmen, a group of islands just off Mainland China, where the company is building an extraordinarily ambitious shopping mall and hotel-to-entertainment centre (pictured below).
Landing at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, I was welcomed warmly off the plane by the ultra-efficient and charming Ever Rich team from the Huan Yu VIP Terminal. The facillity offers the airport’s first-ever speedy customs service, quick-fire immigration and the use of a VIP room (below) and refreshments while formalities are being processed and one’s luggage claimed.
En route, I transited briefly through Hong Kong International Airport, just long enough to note the new presence of DFS Group as liquor & tobacco, perfumes & cosmetics and airside general merchadise concessionaire, replacing long-time incumbents Sky Connection and Nuance-Watson (HK).
It’s very early days for DFS and the signs of transformation (below) are clear for all to see but exciting days lie ahead in 2013 as the retailer begins a radical refurbishment of the shopping offer.
Here in Taipei, I’ve just spent a great day touring Ever Rich’s Neihu store. It’s an amazing facility (at 18,000sq m one of the world’s largest travel retail stores) that combines luxury shopping with art & culture, a tremendous Sense of Place and service of the highest level. It’s targeted at Mainland Chinese tourists who are pouring into the country in unprecedented numbers in the wake of dramatically increased direct flights over recent times.
It’s as much about the experience as the shopping. In the beautiful Taiwanese merchandise section we took tea, served in the most extraordinarily graceful and knowledgeable fashion by a tea hostess in the middle of the store.
I spent quality time over lunch (and a later interview) with Chairman and CEO Simon Chiang and his son Kevin, who is Vice Chairman and their senior team. It was fascinating to hear of the powerful sense of social and national commitment that underpins this great business. The company’s multi-faceted Corporate Social Responsibility programme is embraced with fervour by its owners, management and staff. I’ll tell you all about it in ‘Ever Rich at 18’, publishing just after Chinese New Year 2013.
After my visit to the store, the Ever Rich team took me to Taipei 101, a landmark skyscraper that was the world’s tallest until Dubai’s Burj Khalifa opened in 2010.
As its name suggests, Taipei 101 comprises 101 floors above ground (as well a further five underground). I learned that the tower is designed to withstand earthquakes, which is reassuring when you’re standing near the top (reached in 37 seconds via the world’s fastest elevator) looking out over Taipei far below and knowing you are in an earthquake zone. Nonetheless I would not want to be in the building at the time to test its rigour.
If you really want to gauge the impact of Mainland Chinese tourism here, visit Taipei 101. The place is simply teeming with Mainland visitors (seen below), shopping in the luxury boutiques on the ground floor and then riding to the top of the tower. It’s clear that Ever Rich’s massive investment in Neihu will pay rich dividends for years to come.
Today I’m heading to Yilan in Northeastern Taiwan, an area of great natural beauty, hot springs and, soon, an Ever Rich hotel and shopping complex. It’s just one of several ambitious projects that the company has planned for coming years. Its first 18 years have been full of achievement. The next stage of the journey looks even more exciting.
After today, there’s just time for a brief stop off in Hong Kong and then, in the words of the song, I’ll be home for Christmas. Though only just.