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My final trip of the year, and indeed of the decade, is over. And what a great way to close out the 2010s it turned out to be. Not simply in the assignment itself – covering the opening of the Harrods Tea Room at Hamad International Airport by Qatar Duty Free and Harrods – but through the opportunity to learn more about Doha and to experience the superb hospitality of Qatar Airways and Hamad International Airport.
Ever since I conceived and launched the Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) Conference & Awards in 2011, I have championed the airport dining sector and helped chronicle its impressive qualitative evolution. That upward trajectory just climbed quicker than a Qatar Airways A380 after take-off. The Harrods Tea Room represents an emphatic statement that airport food & beverage can be elegant, experiential, diverse and delightful.
While in Doha, I spent considerable time in the good company of Qatar Duty Free Vice President Operations Thabet Musleh, who is doing an outstanding job at Hamad International Airport, and his colleague Ibrahim Al Emadi.
On Friday we toured Msheireb Downtown Doha, a QAR20 billion (US$5.5 billion) 31-hectares project designed to transform the capital city’s centre, from where we took in some brilliant views of this vibrant city.
Msheireb (‘a place to drink water’ in Arabic) is described as the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project. Its planners say that it will revive the old commercial district with a new architectural language that is “modern yet inspired by traditional Qatari heritage and architecture – its proportion, simplicity, space, light, layering, ornament and response to climate”.
We put some of those claims to test as we walked much of the completed phase (there is much more to come). I like the aims of this project very much – “to reverse the pattern of development in Doha, which has tended towards isolated land use, reliance on car transportation and energy hungry structures” – and I equally admire the end result. I urge you to visit Msheireb during your next stopover in Qatar: like so many things in this city and country, it will open your eyes.
The highlight of our visit was a tour of Bin Jelmood House, a facility designed to raise awareness of human exploitation and slavery. The house examines the social, cultural and economic contribution of enslaved people to the development of human civilisation. One cannot help but be moved and appalled by the learnings within, in particular to discover how widely the shameful modern-day equivalents of slavery (human trafficking, in particular) continue to flourish today.
On Friday afternoon I flew out of Hamad International and back to London. I was welcomed at the Al Mourjan Business Lounge, surely one of the best such facilities in the airport world. I was guided from check-in to the lounge by a delightful young Sri Lankan Qatar Airways official by the unforgettable name of Eureka.
The word Eureka was coined by ancient Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes and has come to be used as a term of delight when one finds or discovers something. People talk of a ‘Eureka moment’ and I can tell you mine was a revelation from start to finish. What a fine ambassador Eureka is for both her home country and her adopted one.
And while Archimedes may not have uttered his name, I then had my Patrick moment.
Patrick, a charming and intelligent young man from Kenya, is a Host in the Al Mourjan restaurant. As is my want, I chatted away to him and asked him about his home country and his life journey. We discussed famous Kenyan athletes down the years and when I told him that I was from New Zealand, where rugby is the national sport, I commented on the excellence of the Kenyan rugby 7s team.
“They even beat New Zealand once,” I noted.
“I think you might find it is more than once,” Patrick pointed out with a broad smile. And he was right.
Thank you Eureka, Patrick and all the Hamad International, Qatar Airways and Qatar Duty Free teams (the Harrods Tea Room event was superbly organised by Samaya Mahmoud, Bushra Al Hashimi and their colleagues), whose astoundingly consistent level of pleasantness, professionalism and passion makes the whole Qatari travel journey experience such a pleasure.