Travel retail speeds around the Parabolica but Hong Kong stalls in the pits

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Chilly winds in multiple senses are blowing through Hong Kong. The Discovery Bay to Central ferries are the closest I am likely to get to an overseas trip for some time.

Then as it was, then again it will be
And though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea
– Ten Years Gone, Led Zeppelin

It’s been a bitterly (and unusually) cold few days here in Hong Kong as the mildest of winters gave way to temperatures that plunged below even those in my Moodie Davitt colleagues’ various enclaves of London, Pontardawe (Wales), Skipton (North Yorkshire, where sunshine was last reported in 2012) and even the wild and perennially wet west coast Irish city of Galway.

Colder than Galway. Is that possible? On Moodie Davitt Report staff zoom calls, my business parter Dermot Davitt is regularly clad tip to toe in blizzard-proof Arc’teryx or The North Face gear. And that’s in mid-July. Having holidayed in Galway many years ago with my two oldest kids one ‘summer’, my solace is that it will continue to rain there for approximately 362 days in the year (the other three it snows) while here it will get warm – very warm – soon.

Hong Kong goes head to head with Galway for coldest Moodie Davitt regional HQ status. Click on the image to read the South China Morning Post story.

The reason for this weather report is that its miserable nature rather sums up the mood in Hong Kong. With Omicron cutting a wholly predictable swathe through the community, many people are more concerned about being taken into confinement in hospital or an isolation centre than they are about the virus itself. These are tough days for the Special Administrative Region, a fact recognised by the local government which this week unveiled a HK$170 billion (US$21.8 billion) package of measures to fight the havoc wreaked by the pandemic.

There were plenty of vital positives in Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po’s budget, including HK$66.4 billion (US$8.5 billion) in spending e-vouchers for permanent residents and HK$67 billion to support the fight against the pandemic. But what the Hong Kong economy needs more than anything else is the Mainlanders back and for that to happen, COVID case numbers have to come down and stay down. That is the goal of Hong Kong’s ‘dynamic zero-infection’ strategy (mirroring that of the Mainland) but achieving it is proving deeply problematic.

Yesterday The Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health in Hong Kong reported 8,674 additional positive cases in the previous 24 hours (3,365 confirmed; 968 asymptomatic; and 4,341 with pending case status). Those are big numbers, especially given the many months on end that Hong Kong enjoyed with just a handful of cases. And they are going to get bigger. Much bigger.

Compare and contrast the situation in Hong Kong (population 7.4 million) with that of the Mainland (1.41 billion) where just 90 indigenous cases were reported yesterday, 47 in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

And in that comparison lies the immediate future of Hong Kong’s battle with the virus. Powerful Chinese state media Global Times reported yesterday: “The city’s cumulative confirmed cases surpassed 66,000 as of Tuesday, exceeding the total cases in Wuhan, Central Hubei Province, which was the first city hit by the epidemic.” The comparison isn’t flattering to Hong Kong and nor was it intended to be. It is a call to get the house in order.

Click on the image to read the full Global Times report

The same report quoted Hong Kong Hospital Authority Chairman Fan Hung-ling as acknowledging shortcomings in dealing with the epidemic ahead of the fifth wave. He said that the city must learn from the Mainland’s dynamic zero-COVID policy in tracking patients, increasing medical resources such as temporary hospitals, and rigorously carrying out quarantine measures.

“Insisting on the dynamic zero-COVID strategy is our country’s basic policy, which we won’t change. And we have to follow in its steps by taking stricter measures,” Fan commented. One such measure is the mandatory mass nucleic acid testing of every Hong Kong resident which begins on 1 March (coincidentally my birthday so here’s hoping my first gift is a negative result).

Chilly times then in every sense in Hong Kong, particularly within the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors, including of course the duty free channel. Conversely, prospects for the global travel retail business – albeit without the benefit of Chinese travellers, probably for most or all of 2022 – are currently looking better than they have since before the onset of the pandemic.

That supposition is borne out by recent results, comments or developments from the likes of Lagardère Travel Retail, Stena Line, Aer Rianta International, Heathrow, Dubai Airports, and Groupe ADP (Paris). Individually, each offers a welcome positivity; collectively they suggest a corner as tricky as Monza’s famed Parabolica has been turned. Alas, for now, Hong Kong is stalled in the pits. And they are Galway cold.

Music to the travel retail community’s ears: Asked directly when he expected Lagardère Travel Retail to return to 2019 levels – in 2023 or 2024 – CEO Dag Rasmussen replied without hesitation: “2023 – that would be total figures with ups and downs depending on the countries and business lines.” Click on the image to read our story.

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