Twelve talking points about Hong Kong International Airport

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

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Hong Kong International remains one of my favourite airports. I love its big panoramas; its airfield views; its diverse food & drinks offer (though not always its service quality); its mix of generic and specialist retail; and its sheer sense of drama – a real feeling of a vast international crossroads. It’s pretty damn efficient too. Every time I go there I also notice change and lots of talking points. Here are my 12 from this visit.

One: Well here’s a first and one that you just have to admire. A democratic ballot to elect the airport’s ‘Most courteous immigration officer’! For those such as I who have suffered from the monotone, mono-syllabic, bored, brusque, rude, insouciant, intimidating manner of certain immigration officers down the years, this is music to my ears. This is surely an airport first – though I suspect Newark Airport (and several other US gateways) may secretly offer an alternative prize for ‘Most intimidating immigration officer’ as many of their officials seem to believe they are auditioning for roles as New York Jets Linebackers with the traveller cast as the opposition quarterback. Hong Kong International’s initiative is a great step in the right direction, making government officials accountable to the people who effectively pay their salaries – passengers.

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Two: This is, I think, one of the most iconic images of any airport in the world. It is a replica of a Farman bi-plane, suspended from the ceiling at Hong Kong International Airport T1. The wood and fabric, French-made Farman was the first aircraft to fly in Hong Kong, where it was flown in Sha Tin on 18 March 1911 by pioneer Belgian aviator Charles Van den Born. I never fail to snap a photo of it and every time I am here I count many others doing just the same. What a glorious, nostalgic reminder of the allure and nostalgia of flight. This is truly one of the most memorable examples worldwide of how the concept of Sense of Place can come to life in an airport.

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Three: Staying with Sense of Place, I like the regular art and culture displays that Hong Kong International Airport puts on regularly down in the far end of T1 (near gate 62). Right now, over 70 items of memorabilia selected from the Bruce Lee: Kung Fu‧Art‧Life exhibition currently on display at Hong Kong Heritage Museum are presented at the airport to underline the iconic martial arts star’s achievements and contribution to film, Kung Fu and popular culture. It features a chronology, images, audio-visual programmes and a photo corner. I was so engrossed that I only just made my plane.

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Four: I note that DFS has converted its former Lan Kwai Fong bar (themed to one of Hong Kong’s most famous leisure areas) to a more generic ‘whisky bar’. Pity, though I think the space available never really lent itself to an ambitious destination execution such as DFS’s Long Bar at Changi Airport. 1

Five: Now this was a surprise. DFS (I presume) selling 2XU flight socks right outside its liquor & tobacco store. A sign of the times perhaps? Not just selling a product tailored (literally) to travellers but also reflective of a necessarily more pragmatic approach to what does and doesn’t sell in a tough economic climate. I would question the location though.

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Six: Another wow. This time from Martell in the form of a pop-up environment (I hesitate to call it ‘store’, it’s too nice for that). Celebrating 300 years of Martell Cognac, the pop-up space transports travellers to France and allows them to immerse themselves in the spirit of ‘Art de Vivre’. I love the bespoke historic Cognac bottles and the evocative way that the craftsmanship and history of Martell’s French heritage is conveyed. Travellers can have photographs taken in a space designed to look like a French living room overlooking the vineyards of Cognac. Travellers who make a purchase get a photo as a special gift and all visitors  also get to enjoy foie gras paired with Martell Cognac. Lovely and simple. Simply lovely. 5a 5

Seven: Hong Kong International was the first airport to introduce duplex stores, from Chanel and Rolex respectively. I never see many people in them but boy are they wonderful showcases for two of the world’s greatest brands. I watched fascinated as an old Chinese lady with a stick (you can just make her out in red) headed into the Rolex store, followed by members of her family. I think she knew exactly what she wanted to buy. 7 6

Eight: Now there’s a story behind the two signs below, indicating the way to the SSP Food Court at the far end of T1. In an early 2015 Blog I wrote about the former signs that were in place (bottom picture), noting: “I can’t tell if the man with the chopsticks and rice is eating or throwing up (but I sure as heck know that it doesn’t make me hungry).” The lesson is simple, meals going into mouths is not an attractive sight. Show the food not the eating. Judge the difference for yourself.

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[November 2015]

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[January 2015]

Nine: I’ve commented on this small chocolate & fine foods boutique before but it’s worth noting again. The Nuance Group has done a fine job with its Taste & Delights store, elevating a category that is so often done poorly in travel retail to a suitably refined level. Do they really think that someone will climb the Macaroon display though?

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Ten: Does Zara have the best shop entrances in airport retail? Hard to argue isn’t it?

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Eleven: I flew from Hong Kong to Dubai onboard Emirates. The experience was flawless, from this superb Emirates Lounge (despite its desperately drab entrance) with lovely views over the tarmac to the impeccable inflight service on the A380 into the UAE (more of that in my next Blog).

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Twelve: Something big is taking shape at Hong Kong International Airport. Very big indeed. Could it be this year’s Swarovski Christmas tree?

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