Truly a golden gateway

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

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Homeward bound,
I wish I was,
Homeward bound,
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my kids (and labrador) lie waiting
Silently for me

– Homeward Bound (with a tweak or two), Simon & Garfunkel

I’m back at San Francisco International Airport for the second time in two days. But this time my purpose is travel rather than store viewing. This time I am homeward bound.

I’m in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse (above), reflecting on a journey.

It’s been an enthralling two weeks on the road: starting with a week in the turmoil of the Korean travel retail industry and the sheer effervescence of Seoul. My god, I love that city, I love Korea. A brilliant blend of tradition and vibrance; culture and comtemporism. In a quarter century of travelling there each year I have never received anything other than the warmest of welcomes, never found the business and the country anything less than fascinating.

The current power struggle between politicians and chaebols (conglomerates) is changing the travel retail landscape – and potentially not for the better. If the Korean government wants its retailers to be competitive abroad then what on earth is it doing trying to weaken them at home? A flurry of new entrants to the market, many lacking any sort of expertise in the sector, is not going to benefit anyone, especially the Korean consumer. More on that subject in this week’s e-Zine.

Then to Hawaii. Blue, blue Hawaii. Laid back but, in our industry at least, full on. A location that really spawned the extraordinary success story that is DFS Group but which finds itself in transformation as the Yen weakens and consumer tastes change. I took a whistle-stop tour of T Galleria by DFS on Royal Hawaiian Avenue (where I bumped into Regional Merchandise Manager Beauty Betsy Lum, pictured below).

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The store looked great as always but it was very quiet, symptomatic of the weak Japanese Yen that has dulled visitor numbers and shopping spends. One couldn’t help but draw the contrast with, say, Lotte Duty Free or The Shilla Duty Free in Seoul. There, despite the fact that business is still far from recovered from the MERS downturn, the stores are still packed (in key departments at least) with Chinese shoppers.

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At Honolulu Airport I had a quick bite at the wonderfully named Stinger Ray’s. Well, it was meant to be quick. With portions this size, how is anyone expected to fit on the plane let alone make it?

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From the mid-Pacific to the charm and slopes and excitement and, hey, sheer west coast feel-good that is San Francisco.  If I ever find a more fascinating hotel than the Kensington Park on Post St, wake me up.

And what an airport the city has. DFS was doing pretty good business in its impressively made-over and elegant store (for which it faces competition in an open tender next year) and I had the great pleasure of meeting Operations Support Manager Alan Nakatani (pictured below with Cheryl Nashir, San Francisco Airport’s Director, Revenue Development and Management), who has been doing a fantastic job here for a couple of decades.

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As I mentioned in my last Blog, San Francisco Airport goes to amazing efforts to delight its “guests” (their term) and promote local identity. With more time on my hands today I revisited the airport’s Aviation Museum. Just how good is this?

I’ll answer my own question. Really good. Unusually good. Memorably good. It has inspired me, in fact, to a really big idea. Watch this space.

I also loved the SFMoma Musuem store, which offers a range of art books, design objects and furnishings, jewellery and apparel, including some really quirky gift ideas. Outstanding. Wonderfully attentive staff too. Every major city gateway should try to do something like this, even if not always on the same scale. Sense of Place? San Francisco Airport simply oozes it.

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