Cannes on steroids and gobsmacked in an airport wonderland

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

And the beat goes on, the beat goes on.
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.
La de da de de, la de da de da.
– The Beat Goes On, Sonny and Cher

Great wifi welcomes arriving passengers at DXB

I’ve arrived at my Park Hyatt Dubai Interim Bureau, my first time in the emirate for 27 months, after having visited here on multiple occasions each year for the previous three decades.

I’m here to report on a couple of great launches tonight and tomorrow with Dubai Duty Free at DXB (more on those soon) and to attend the 25th anniversary celebrations of Patrick Doyle’s International Diplomatic Supplies on Friday night – a fantastic occasion for an outstanding family-run company.

It was good to see DXB – and the Dubai Duty Free arrivals store – packed last night. I admit that I am still getting used to the whole travel gig again. To be standing in a crowded queue of passengers, including numerous individuals who seemed to believe a COVID mask is a chin strap at best, is a disconcerting experience having been cosseted in safety-conscious Hong Kong for so long.

I have remained COVID-free to date and I really don’t want to taint that perfect track record on a near three-month road trip. However the reality that lies ahead is that in many of the countries I will visit (notably the UK), masks not only won’t be worn correctly, they won’t be worn at all. Better get used to it.

More on Dubai soon. Today I’m going to focus on the rest of my enthralling Doha experience over the past few days (look out for my full report on our main website in coming days).

On Monday night I had the fortune to visit the Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition, an extraordinary event now in its 17th year as a gathering for jewellery aficionados, global brands, and aspiring designers. And, importantly, the public.

I attended with Qatar Duty Free Vice President Thabet Musleh and Alex Tilsley and Mathilde Candotto-Carniel from Burberry. Thabet’s seen it all before and promised us we would see “Cannes on steroids” and, boy, did we ever.

The event features a glittering roll-call of the world’s most illustrious luxury watch and jewellery brands from Louis Vuitton to Bvlgari; Rolex to Tiffany; Boucheron to Cartier; Chopard to Dior. All were presented on ‘stands’ that looked like they belonged in a luxury shopping mall rather than an exhibition floor.

And here’s the thing. The brands are actually selling to the public during the six-day event. And I mean really selling. Rolex alone clocked up (or watched up) US$2 million in sales on day 1. As I said, extraordinary.

Taking in the show with (from left) Hussain Al Baker; Hamad International Airport Chief Operating Officer Engr. Badr Mohammed Al Meer; Thabet Musleh;  Alex Tilsey from Burberry; Kayla Kim Wellman, Project Specialist at Hamad International Airport; and Mathilde Candotto-Carniel from Burberry

The same adjective, along with a dozen or so others, could be applied to the expansion project at Hamad International Airport. Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker told me in no uncertain terms the previous evening that I would be impressed on my privileged sneak preview tour the next day. Even more evocatively, Thabet told me I would be “gobsmacked”. I was all that and more. Astonished might be the best description.

As mentioned in my last Blog, I’m not at liberty to show any preview photos here. If I did, Liverpool-loving Thabet might despatch me to the same place he reserves for Manchester City supporters.

But based on what I saw, a little over four months out from completion, the final development will represent one of the world’s great infrastructure achievements, aviation-related or otherwise. Some 5,000 workmen are currently on site, a 24/7 workforce that will complete the job in late September before the October opening in advance of the FIFA World Cup the following month.

(Left to right) Former Harrods Business Development Director and now sector consultant Raj Assanand; Thabet Musleh; Mathilde Candotto-Carniel and Alex Tilsley (right) from Burberry and yours truly (in Manchester City blue)

The expansion will feature 380 trees (and we are talking seriously big trees, many already in place); 26,000 shrubs; a waterfall; and a dazzling array of retail and food & beverage experiences, the likes of which I promise you the airport world has never seen.

Despite the project only having come out of the ground in October 2020 and work taking place amid a global pandemic, there is no doubt – not a single iota – that the project will be completed on schedule.

I had the pleasure to chat with Peter Daley, Senior Project Director at Qatar Company for Airports Operation & Management, who told me, “It was a challenging period anyway to get the project delivered. But we’ve been having to do that with a global pandemic on, where you have to carry on driving to deliver the project.

“It’s not just what you’re dealing with domestically – with lockdowns to protect the community – but also with the international supply chain. And even now, when most people think the global pandemic is over, you’re getting knock-on effects.

“China has been into lockdowns so even now we’re still having to deal with issues around air freighting materials – moving them around internationally to be able to assemble components to then bring to the project. So the knock-on impacts of COVID are quite significant.”

That’s admirable understatement. All the more impressive that this profoundly ambitious project, which will raise Hamad International’s annual passenger capacity to around 60 million, is going so rigorously to plan.

The work doesn’t stop with the expansion opening. “We’re already moving forward to the next phase,” Peter told me. “So we’re driving to finish the central concourse, and we have got the tender for the D and E winglets already under technical evaluation so they’ll break ground straight after the World Cup.”

Then there’s Concourse F (the remote western concourse) for which the design package is already awarded. At Hamad International Airport the beat goes on. A relentless, pulsating, magical, mesmeric rhythm.

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