Delivering a travel tonic in New Delhi and Abu Dhabi

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

Last week’s travels reminded me (again) of just why I love this job so much.

Not only did I visit two great places, New Delhi and Abu Dhabi, but in both instances I saw progressive forces within the industry doing their best to champion quality and partnership. The sort of stories that make any self-respecting reporter want to get up in the morning.

Both came as ideal tonics to the all-pervading doom and gloom that currently makes reading the Financial Times every day a lesson in advanced masochism.

Delhi International Airport Limited’s (DIAL) unveiling of the commercial revenue opportunities at the new Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport was simply outstanding – several of the guests told me it was the best airport company commercial presentation they had ever seen.

Billed as the Retail Marketing Launch, the evening saw DIAL outline its vision to create a world-class airport in Delhi, including over 20,000sq m of retail space. The GMR Group-led operator of the Delhi gateway also launched a vibrant new airport retail branding called Skyline Avenue (‘Destination You’).

I liked many things about the evening. I liked the fact that the GMR Group-led DIAL’s senior management spoke with candour and passion about the principles that will guide the tendering process and the ultimate selection of partners. I liked the fact that those principles included an emphasis on the sustainibility of the bids, on all parties making a viable return, and (crucially) a commitment to long-term contracts.

I liked the detail they gave – from the various packages on offer to their expectations of would-be partners. I liked the fact that the airport’s operational/aeronautical teams were on hand to underline how the whole of DIAL is focused on enhancing commercial revenues while building a world-class, safe and efficient airport. And I very much liked the presentation from Robbie Gill, Director of London-based The Design Solution, which is playing a key role in crafting the flow, design and feel of the ultimate offer. Robbie’s an ebullient character, not given to tokenisms or truisms, and his ability to tell it straight really added to the impression that DIAL has thought long and hard about what it is trying to achieve in New Delhi.

As I have said before, there have been more false dawns in Indian travel retail than in the history of Bollywood film sets, but one suspects that this just might be the real thing. DIAL has watched closely what has happened elsewhere in India – particularly in the duty free sector – and is determined not to repeat the mistakes that have been made.

Naturally it wants to extract the best possible value for its contracts, but it is openly exploring alternatives to traditional concessions as part of a flexible approach to bids that will be made at a particularly tough time in industry and economic terms. Its decision not to charge a Minimum Annual Guarantee in the first, difficult year of the contracts, underlines that fresh thinking.

Earlier in the day I chatted at length with DIAL Chief Commercial Officer Gavin McKechnie (above) and Head – Commercial Retail Minakshi Sondhi, an impressive duo if ever there was one, both with considerable international experience and a passion for delivering a world-class commercial offer in New Delhi. You can read the full interview in coming days on The Moodie Report.com and I promise you it makes outstanding and insightful reading.

After a late night in the bar of the Taj Palace Hotel where the DIAL presentation was made (the hotel not the bar), it was straight on to Abu Dhabi the next morning. Those who think this job is glamorous probably don’t see the regular sight of me squeezed into an economy seat on an international flight after snatching just a couple of hours nap to ensure The Moodie Report.com lives up to its tagline of ‘the website that never sleeps’.

But the compensations are many. Exhausted, I tumbled into my room at the Shangri-La Hotel in Abu Dhabi, pulled the curtains and simply gasped in admiration at the view of the new Sheikh Zayed Mosque across the river. What a stunning building and what a great addition to the UAE capital’s impressive and increasing emphasis on culture and heritage rather than overt consumerism.

And talking of impressive new additions, the new Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi International Airport is set, surely, to rank as one of the world’s most attractive and consumer-focused air terminals. I was there principally, of course, to assess the commercial offer and what I have seen to date – the food & beverage was still being finished off during my visit – is very, very good indeed.

The lead retailer is DFS, which made its Middle East debut at Abu Dhabi’s existing terminals last year. But it has saved the big bang for T3. Here you’ll find  2,600sq m of retail space, including a stunning range of 19 boutiques, plus dedicated areas for a range of categories including liquor and tobacco; fragrances & cosmetics; sunglasses; watches; and food and confectionery. A pharmacy (Boots), plus books (Relay’s regional debut), consumer technology (Sharaf) and gold (Pure Gold) stores complement that powerful core category line-up.

And take a look at the boutique line-up; a real who’s who of luxury – Jimmy Choo (the upscale footwear brand’s airport debut), Cartier, Hermès, Rolex, Coach, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ferragamo, Bvlgari (its new design), Burberry, Hugo Boss, Salvatore Ferragamo, Chloe, Loewe, Tag Heuer, Swarovski, Bally, Dunhill, Tumi and Montblanc.

The luxury boutiques (two walkways immediately post-security) lead seamlessly into the specialist and duty free area, which is as striking an airport environment as I can remember. It’s beautifully elegant and held together with an Arabic fascia around all the stores that lends a soft and unique feel to an already charming environment.

Again we’ll bring you that story – and of course pictures – in coming days. But our first impressions are very favourable.

As I mentioned in my initial report on the day of my visit, the whole facility, from check-in to retail to Etihad’s superb passenger lounges, has been designed to reflect and exude the luxury positioning of the Emirate as a whole under its 2030 vision.

ADAC Chairman Khalifa Mohamed Al Mazrouei told me: “I’m very proud of Terminal 3. I think it’s going to put Abu Dhabi as a whole into a new dimension in terms of airport terminals and in terms of the uniqueness of sophistication, luxury, and convenience.” 

It also has a tremendous Sense of Place, not only in the distinctive Arabic theme that pervades the terminal (in the lighting, retail fascias and architectural design) but in the connecting walkway for transit passengers from T1 which features a magnificent array of giant photographs (below) showing different aspects of culture, crafts, tastes, tradition, history, landscapes and religion.

“Basically you read about the history of Abu Dhabi on the walls of our airport – this is unique,” Khalifa Mohamed Al Mazrouei told me. “You are reading walls… you are reading history and culture and you are enriching your understanding. Through this I hope it gives you a Sense of Place that this is Abu Dhabi International Airport – and that it’s different.” 

Different. And dazzling. Look out for our full report coming soon – we think, like Delhi T3, the developments here represent one of the really big stories of the year.

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