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Interview: Keira Zhang, Founder & CEO, One World Duty Free

Singapore-born travel retailer One World Duty Free is readying the opening of its first stores, the ODF Singapore Flyer and Port City Duty Free Mall in Sri Lanka by the end of the year. DFNI finds out more.

DFNI: Can you provide some background to your career and the inception of One Duty Free?

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share more about the inception of One World Duty Free (ODF), a project I’ve been working on that ignites my passion and excitement, particularly so as we are inching towards the opening of our stores soon.

The spark to embark on ODF emerged during a casual conversation with an industry friend. It struck me then that Singapore, a world-class regional financial and commercial hub, and home to one of the world’s leading airports, held vast, untapped potential. While it has long been common to see international duty-free operators grace our shores, Singapore-owned duty-free operators were a rare sight. So, I thought to myself: Why not?

In the face of challenges brought on by the pandemic, Singapore defied the odds by welcoming over six million visitors in 2022, surpassing even the Singapore Tourism Board’s most optimistic forecasts. It became clear that Singapore’s potential was undeniable, and it was an opportune time for us to take our stand on a global stage.

What fuels my determination is the nation’s thriving economy, transparency, and its rich tapestry of cultures coexisting harmoniously. These pillars are the bedrock of any business’s success. With this conviction, I set out to establish ODF.

Our journey is one of resilience and innovation. Not only are we building a business, but we also hope to be able to craft a legacy that transcends international boundaries. We are thrilled to embark on this journey and can’t wait to have the world experience the magic of One World Duty Free.

What will set ODF apart in the global travel retail landscape in your opinion?

Being a Singapore-owned omni-channel duty-free operator is a great point of pride for us. The team is currently developing a curated collection of merchandise and will soon establish a local gift center featuring a series of “Made in Singapore” labels. This initiative aims to promote the Singapore brand to international travelers beyond our local borders.

Furthermore, as a retailer, we consider technology a means of optimising efficiency and problem-solving. Our objective is to develop smarter, more efficient operations and provide our customers with unique experiences through technology. Presently, our team is exploring how we can leverage technology to reduce logistics waste and enhance transparency.

Additionally, in line with our commitment to responsible business practices, we are also on a strive to incorporate ESG initiatives into our operations, ensuring that we not only provide exceptional retail experiences but also contribute positively to the environment and society.

Finally, over 80% of our diverse team comprises experienced professionals from the travel retail sector, all of whom are passionate about making a difference and working toward the same common goal – Making travel retail limitless. Our local expertise, combined with a global outlook, will enable us to curate a shopping experience that is uniquely Singaporean yet universally appealing.

What is the latest news regarding the opening of your first store at the Singapore Flyer – can you give us some background and tell us more about it please?

The team has been working hard on the store’s impending opening. ODF Singapore Flyer will be launched in two phases. Phase 1 is slated for launch by Q4 2023 and will retail a wide assortment of fine wines & liquor, destination products and a curated selection of fashion & accessories. Phase 2 is looking to shape up by Q1 2024 and will feature a range of local and international brands.

The opening of ODF’s flagship store is a significant milestone in our journey. Located in the heart of downtown Singapore, this store holds immense potential, as Singapore Flyer is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Being situated in this prime location, ODF aims to elevate the travel retail experience, delighting international travelers.

As we embark on this exciting chapter, we remain humbled by the opportunity to contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Singapore’s retail landscape. Our goal is not just to meet travelers’ expectations but to surpass them.

Sri Lanka is next on the cards – can you tell us more about the business opportunity there, how it came about and why have you chosen this location?

Certainly, it’s a privilege to shed light on our forthcoming venture in Sri Lanka. Our decision to expand to Sri Lanka’s Port City Colombo was rooted in recognizing a unique business opportunity and a vision to be part of a transformative journey.

Port City Colombo is a masterplan development that is capturing the attention of investors globally. Located in the heart of Colombo and situated within the expansive Port City Duty Free Mall, which is strategically positioned amidst international hotels and casinos that promises a diverse and affluent customer base of tourists, expatriates, and locals. The project aspires to transform business and lifestyles in Sri Lanka, providing world-class facilities, attracting a range of multinational companies and global businesses. The proposed and approved facilities for Port City Colombo are designed to cater to a range of industries and sectors with sustainability at the core.

Anticipating a resurgence in tourist arrivals post-pandemic, Port City Colombo is poised to accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic development to become a premier tourism and shopping destination, comparable to iconic hubs like Singapore and Dubai. Together with our local partners, we remain committed to elevating Port City Colombo onto the global stage, transforming it from a burgeoning commercial hub into a premier duty-free retail hotspot.

Our expansion to Port City Colombo will mark our first retail endeavor beyond our local borders. Travelers can look forward to several new-to-market brands as we approach the final stages of negotiations. The Sri Lanka store will offer a carefully curated selection of international brands spanning Beauty, Wellness, Spirits & Wines, and Fashion.

With the establishment of the Sri Lanka store, ODF also aims to enhance local employment opportunities in the travel retail sector, fostering the development of a skilled workforce and improving the quality of life for the local community.

We are targeting to commence operations by the end of 2023.

Dr Priyath B. Wickrama, Director General of the Commission and Commission Member and Keira Zhang, Founder & CEO of ODF at the Signing Ceremony for ODF Port City Colombo

Can you tell us more about the vision, design and store offer for ODF that we will see coming soon? Our inspiration for the Singapore Flyer store adopts the use of organic shapes and exquisite finishes that grace the entire space, creating an atmosphere that resonates with both beauty and strength.

In our pursuit of harmony and balance, we’ve drawn design inspiration from the serenity of the iconic Singapore Flyer. The result is an environment that simultaneously calms and stimulates, inviting travelers to feel at ease and relaxed, experiencing a profound sense of tranquility while exploring our merchandise offerings.

The store’s façade, inspired by the form of water droplets, symbolizes fluidity and renewal. Digital screens and windows come together to craft an ever-evolving visual spectacle that mirrors the ever-changing world of travel retail shopping.

Sustainability lies at the core of our design ethos. We’ve incorporated modular furniture that adapts to the evolving needs of our store, reducing waste and promoting responsible consumption. Thoughtful placement of digital screens not only enhances our brand campaigns but also minimises energy consumption.

At the heart of the store, a magnificent bar beckons customers to immerse themselves in the latest product offerings. We warmly invite our shoppers to embark on a discovery journey that embraces only the best experience as they explore a carefully curated selection of premium products.

The Sri Lanka store’s design inspiration stems from the Singapore Flyer store. Architectural elements inspired by Sri Lanka’s renowned architect, Geoffrey Bawa were incorporated to create a unique and special atmosphere. One notable feature borrowed from Bawa’s design is the decorative ventilation lattice work which adds character and charm to the entire shopping experience. Beyond that, we’ve also incorporated local craftsmanship. Take for example, rattan pendant lights, which not only contribute to the overall ambience but also showcase the skill and artistry of local artisans. Overall, the design of the ODF store in Port City aims to blend contemporary style with Sri Lankan architectural inspiration, creating a unique and welcoming shopping destination.

What is next on the cards in terms of store openings, target locations, etc?

Our expansion strategy is rooted in gaining a thorough understanding of the individual markets we’re exploring and their alignment with our company’s overarching goals and objectives, which will serve as a solid foundation for our progressive expansion efforts. We’re exploring an omni-channel model approach across different platforms. Though we’re still in the early stages of exploration, we’re still constantly on the lookout to expand our retail offerings.

Each city is carefully evaluated for its competitive advantages and potential for growth. Beyond opening stores, we are looking to craft experiences for our shoppers, tailored to the unique dynamics of each location.

We’re actively pursuing several pipeline projects in Asia and conducting our research efforts as we speak. While we’re unable to reveal specific locations at this juncture, do be assured that we will be in touch with the latest updates at an opportune time.

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