Zooming into and out of Zayed International

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I’ve opened my latest Interim Bureau on EY470 (Etihad Airways), some 22 minutes out of Zayed International Airport en route to Singapore Changi Airport.

In my last Blog I mentioned it would be the last time I flew into Abu Dhabi International Airport. Well, today marked the first time I have flown out of its reincarnation, Zayed International Airport. It’s a magnificent airport – formerly Abu Dhabi International Airport Terminal A – that I’ve become deeply familiar with since my first visit last November, just after it opened.

Newly named airport, same old publisher

You need to visit any airport, especially a new one, a few times to start to understand how it ticks. My major interest is, of course, in the retail and food & beverage offers but I can’t assess Zayed International as narrowly as that given the sheer majesty of the architecture and the sense of amazement it provokes.

I have previously dubbed it a wonder of the airport world and today’s visit only serves to embellish that view.

I flew Business Class with Eithad Airways and as you can see the check-in facilities truly live up to that billing

Retail-wise, it’s a beguiling but complex affair from both an operational and consumer perspective. For a start you have three of the world’s leading travel retailers in place – Lagardère Travel Retail, ARI and DFS – plus a diverse range of independent specialist stores. The two food & beverage sector giants (Avolta/HMSHost and SSP) are there in force as are some quality independent operators.

Each is vying for a spend drawn from both point to point and transit traffic and inevitably in such a new and vast airport there are plenty of learnings in terms of passenger flow and behaviour.

State of the art biometric services make for a fast, efficient and seamless passenger journey to the airside zone

I noted today – during my third visit in three months – a commendably enhanced emphasis on wayfinding with regard to the shopping and F&B offers. With its four-pier structure – and long piers at that – Zayed International needs plenty of helpful signage if it is going to boost penetration rates and maximise revenues. That process is clearly underway.

In the early months there will be winners and losers and many lessons learned. It will be fascinating to watch the development.

In the meantime, as I head out over the Arabian Sea towards India, here are some pictorial impressions from my latest visit. ✈

This is a noteworthy photo, not for the quality of my photography but because it shows the immediacy, post-security, of the perfumes & cosmetics offer (run by ARI Middle East in joint partnership with local partners operating as Travel Retail Sales and Services). You can see the shallowness of the decompression zone so it’s straight into the retail experience. For point to point passengers, that is. Too rapid a transition? I will come to transit further down.
Big brands abound in an eclectic perfumes & cosmetics offer notable now for an impressisve emphasis on newness, exclusives and local at various junctures
Dazzling digital and an overhanging ‘canopy of light’ evoke Emirati art in the main beauty store {Photo: The Design Solution}
Talking of newness, Fenty Beauty, owned by Rihanna and LVMH, is simply flying off the shelves. As the signage indicates, Travel Retail Sales and Services is making sure that passing travellers know all about its availability.
A Chinese shopper price compares a Givenchy SKU. My hotel in Abu Dhabi was packed with Chinese travellers, bearing out the encouraging numbers published by OAG below. Note the rebound of Chinese visitors to the UAE. The big question for travel retailers is how will they shop. Thus far the evidence in Abu Dhabi and Dubai points to a softening spend on skincare in particular, possibly linked to a glut of discounted product in the China domestic market.

Travel Retail Sales and Services and Abu Dhabi Airports are doing all they can to engage with the consumer. I travelled on Valentine’s Day and this violinist, suitably clad in a vivid red dress, was spreading the message of love through music.
If I can’t be home for Valentine’s Day, I can at least send a selfie. Did you really buy two bottles of Cognac, my wife asked?
Dressed to Kiehl(’s) – Great to catch up with my equally well-travelled companion Mr Bones
Wayfinding signs aplenty have popped up within the central concourse to drive footfall into the stores and F&B outlets

Another Travel Retail Sales and Services offer, Spectrum is one of the new terminal’s most visually alluring stores. What’s inside is pretty compelling too, a curated sunglasses proposition across four categories: Entry level, lifestyle brands, premium fashion and luxury.
Lagardère Travel Retail’s Le Gourmet (above) and Le Club (below) stores are notable both for their giant fascias and their product offering, respectively local and international food & confectionery and wines & spirits. Note the fantastic digital imagery from Royal Salute below.

Royal Salute dazzles inside the shop too
Did I buy duty free? Of course I did. You have to support the industry, right? In this case I purchased a range of local food items from the main Lagardère Travel Retail liquor, tobacco and confectionery store, including a sinful two packets of Arabian Delights assorted choco apricots to accompany me on my next journey to Hainan and Vietnam starting on Friday. Love the shopping bag.
Although truth be told, the first packet was broached onboard even before take-off
Yet another visual knock-out, the nicely named Gem&I jewellery boutique from Travel Retail Sales and Services is anchored brilliantly (in every sense) by Swarovski
Food & beverage is proving the star of the Zayed International show to date, nowhere more so than in the SSP Food Park on the mezzanine level

When you snap as many photos as I do, you’re bound to be spotted. And just as the main course follows an appetizer so it came to pass. Nice to catch up with SSP UAE Assistant Operation Manager Ashraf El Gayar, who understandably expressed his delight at the success of the Food Park to date.
Lagardère Travel Retail’s Todd English Pub & Market simply has to be one of the most ambitious and well-designed airport F&B outlets of recent times. Its challenge, however, is how to draw passengers into the superbly atmospheric interior that lies beyond the well-populated bar and dining area at the front of the outlet.

As reported, Italian winemaker and distiller Bottega is this year celebrating the tenth anniversary of its hugely successful Prosecco Bar. Is this, courtesy of HMSHost (Avolta), the ultimate expression of the concept to date? 

Among the many outstanding concepts at Zayed International Airport, this superb café to retail concept really stands out for me. Maison Samira Maatouk, founded in Abu Dhabi in 1996 by Chairwoman Samira Maatouk, has made its airport debut here in sublime style. Remember the name. The Maatouk family are preparing to expand in the airport world.