Monday, 14 May 2018

saor ó dhleacht

Having passed through the gates of Shannon Airport ourselves a few times, we found it quite fascinating to learn that the terminal in western Ireland on the river’s estuary was home to the world’s first duty free shop and will be sure to make special notice of it next time around.  Planet Money fills us in on the life and times of consummate hospitality professional and marketing expert Brendan O’Regan (1917* - 2008 †) whose talents intersected with the limitations of early trans-Atlantic air travel and recognised a business opportunity.
After realising the popularity of Irish Coffee (his first contribution to the world), O’Regan catered to regular arrivals of weary, battered travellers whom had just made the rather arduous hop from North America to Europe and had to land at the first opportunity or were outbound for the same daunting journey, since early planes lacked modern amenities and range and had to make landfall at the first and last opportunity for re-fuelling—which Ireland geographically availed herself of—and saw that his rather captive consumers, elite jet-setters to a person, whose money was burning holes in their pockets, and O’Regan wanted to alleviate their boredom on this layover leg of their trip. Referencing an ancient custom still codified in the law books of allowing sailors to purchase booze without taxes if it was for export and personal consumption, O’Regan successfully pled his case to the Irish government in 1947 to allow him to experiment with an exercise that undercut the government itself by not collecting taxes and losing out on revenue with the promise that by showcasing local items, keepsakes and souvenirs including speciality Irish whiskeys—and manufacturing provenance after a fashion—at a discount, the scheme would encourage local tourism and more than make up for lost revenue on the trinkets.

The model was an instant success and proliferated quickly to airports worldwide—then cruise ships, border-crossings, etc. with some products, like Toblerone (previously) owing its cosmopolitan success to careful product-placement in duty-free stores. O’Regan’s third act was as peace ambassador, helping to end the strife in Northern Ireland and promoting cooperation between Ireland and the UK.