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What Makes Qatar’s Hamad Airport The World’s Best For Shopping?

Qatar’s Hamad International Airport has, for the second consecutive year, been voted the world’s best airport for shopping at the Skytrax World Airport Awards 2024 which took place last week. The accolade is an affirmation of a determination at the Qatar Airways hub to create a world-class retail destination ever since its inception in April 2014.

The airport, which handled a record 45.9 million passengers in 2023, also retook the more prestigious title of ‘World’s Best Airport’ at the awards, considered the most influential in the airport industry. The Doha-located hub wrested that crown from the much-admired Singapore Changi Airport.

Both Hamad International and the southeast Asian rival have been in a tussle for the top spot in recent years, but the Qatari’s have had their foot hard on the pedal during and post-pandemic. Earlier this year, Qatar Airways Group CEO, Badr Mohammed Al-Meer, said: “We’re not simply moving people, we’re shaping the future of travel. Our achievements are a reflection of our unwavering commitment to service excellence. First-class shopping is an important element in our overall proposition.”

At some locations, such comments may be considered just rhetoric, but Hamad International has the proof of its commitment in the speed of its passenger recovery post-Covid—and the scale of the shopping offer that’s been implemented by Qatar Duty Free (QDF), the airport’s wholly-owned retail operator.

Last year, passenger numbers grew by more than 30% year-over-year, despite a tough comparison with 2022 when the airport hosted the FIFA World Cup, the first time it was held in an Arab country. Retail also had a record year and in January, I estimated that QDF had broken through the $1 billion barrier in annual retail sales.

Incremental retail wins

The company won’t stop there. Since the time of the FIFA World Cup, careful planning has ensured incremental wins. Just before the tournament began, the airport opened a new extension of its terminal filled with greenery—25,000 plants and over 300 trees—and new luxury stores from the likes of Burberry, Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Moncler, and Polo Ralph Lauren
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Shopping services and further brand arrivals have been stepped up again and again. In 2023, QDF claims to have been responsible for “numerous world-first openings”, adding to a footprint of more than 200 retail and dining outlets. Among the arrivals were new concepts from Bally, Montblanc, and Tag Heuer, plus Souq Al Matar, a retail and dining experience that re-imagines a traditional Qatari souq.

The space, opened in December, features seven local shops and two restaurants. The souq is an example of what QDF calls a ‘transit tourism’ concept at the airport. The company believes it takes the term ‘sense of place’—an often overworked phrase in duty-free—to the next level. Authenticity in the architectural design helps to remind travelers about the styles, scents, and flavors of Qatar.

Dining at the airport ranges from food courts and novelty coffee shops like Ralph’s Coffee, and the world’s first Oreo Café in an airport to vegan restaurants and celebrity eateries like Gordon Ramsay Burger. There is an ‘essentials’ store called Day2Day for travelers on a budget while luxury watch lovers can visit the first TimeVallée in the Middle East, or Fendi’s eye-catching double-floor boutique.

A second Dior store also opened in April, with a Dior Spa set to be unveiled in May. Qatar Duty Free senior vice president, Tab Musleh, commented: “Being ranked by travelers as the world’s best airport for shopping validates our vision. Pioneering approaches such as ‘transit tourism’ have made our home a destination in its own right. With a raft of new openings and innovations in the works we will continue to find new ways of differentiating our offer.”

That differential has made the airport a Skytrax winner as Qatar Airways Group CEO knows. He made a point that brands and retailers could do well to follow: “There is no finish line in the pursuit of offering exceptional travel experiences. Our goal is to continuously refine journeys in 2024 to match the ever-growing expectations of our discerning passengers.”