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Sunrise over Doha. What a beautiful sight. I’ve seen several such majestic sunrises in the Qatari capital city during my few days here to report on Qatar Duty Free’s opening of the Louis Vuitton boutique at Hamad International Airport. And, while I was at it, to discover more about the ongoing (make that non-stop) retail and dining transformation at the Doha gateway.
Louis Vuitton represents the most high-profile (and certain the highest physically) opening of a year that has simply been studded with them as the impressive evolution of Hamad International gateway continues.
Walking the airport earlier today with Qatar Duty Free Vice President Thabet Musleh, Qatar Duty Free Senior Manager Retail Operations Barry Wheeler and newly appointed Head of Marketing Thomas Thiollier, I was shown numerous just-opened boutiques, food & beverage outlets – and many others that are poised to open – plus a range of activations and digital installations.
They move fast at Qatar Duty Free. On Tuesday Thabet led me and my colleague Hannah Tan-Gillies behind some hoardings to view work in progress on a new beauty area. It looked impressive enough but there was clearly a lot of work left to do.
“Pity we won’t see it this time,” I said to Thabet, knowing that I was flying out to Edinburgh the following night and that Hannah was leaving about 12 hours earlier.
That was roughly equivalent to waving a red cape at a bull from a metre away, while poking it with a sharp stick. “Yes you will,” said Thabet, proceeding to call the site foreman over and tell him firmly but politely that the store would open the next morning. No ifs, buts and certainly no maybes.
Sure enough, when Hannah and I walked the (highly impressive) beauty zone the next day, the new area was trading and looking as if it had been open for weeks, not hours.
Thabet reckons the whole perfumes & cosmetics zone is the best in the airport world and I have to say that it is right up there in the upper echelons of industry excellence. For range, definitely, including a simply outstanding array of niche fragrances; a sumptuous regional presentation from Al-Jazeera Perfumes (one of the finest airport destination merchandise offers in my opinion); and a whole swag of regional and global firsts.
For ambience and environment, unquestionably. What I like most perhaps about the store is its non-formulaic approach. No semi-forced walkthrough here, you can go off-piste just as much as you want with a surprise in the form of a travel retail-exclusive or newcomer at almost every turn. And the whole zone, underpinned by great brand support, looks a million dollars. And for staff? Absolutely. Polite, well-informed, impeccably presented to a man and a woman.
You have probably seen our report on the Louis Vuitton opening. But it’s worth an additional word here. What a store. How good it is to see this wonderful brand embracing the airport world in such ambitious fashion. I have fond memories of attending the inauguration of Louis Vuitton’s first-ever airport boutique at Incheon International Airport in 2011 with The Shilla Duty Free. Before that the brand had always rejected the notion of airport retail.
That’s all changed of course with Louis Vuitton having reeled off multiple openings in international and domestic terminals in the intervening years. I’ve seen almost all of them (Istanbul Airport, apparently superb, being the prime exception) so I’m on solid ground when I say that this incarnation is about as good as it gets.
Having departed Hamad International Airport two days ago (allowing for time zone variations), I’ve been finalising this Blog from precisely the same location. How so? Easy. From Doha I flew to Edinburgh, Scotland to watch my son Ali’s writing and directing stage debut at the Edinburgh Fringe. In fact – proud Dad confession – I watched it on successive nights.
It’s called ‘Going Down’ and involves four students stuck in an elevator and what transpires over the ensuing 40 minutes. It’s a poignant, powerful work that has drawn great reviews and my family pride while watching it was filled to overflowing.
I flew out of Edinburgh Airport this morning, taking some time out to peruse the World Duty Free store. It’s the retailer’s familiar UK post-security walk-through format and unlike Hamad International it is very much formulaic, particularly in beauty and destination merchandise.
I realise that Edinburgh is a much smaller airport so any comparison is invidious. I’m not saying the offer is bad, it’s just not in any way exciting or surprising other than the very nice exception of the Whyte & Mackay single malt activation for Jura, Tamnavulin and Fettercairn at the front of the store.
Out of stocks are difficult to avoid at present but it was concerning to see so many examples in the all-important Scotch whisky category (not the fault of the retailer), not a good look for some famous brands. Supply chain issues around packaging and glass are likely the prime cause, not easy factors to overcome in the current global environment.
I feel a lot more could be done here to create a really atmospheric zone for Scotland’s most famous product. After all, this is the country’s biggest international gateway. Look at how lovingly ARI treats the Irish whiskey category at Dublin Airport, for example.
With my next stop Dubai, I had the choice of flying with Emirates from Glasgow direct or with Qatar Airways from Edinburgh via Hamad International. As you will have gleaned I chose the latter despite the need to transit. I just believe the Qatar Airways experience is better and today was no exception to the excellence I have always encountered.
What I like about the Qatar Airways crew training is that they don’t transform individuals into automatons but instead let their own individual personalities shine.
As I finish this Blog, I’m about 35 minutes out of Dubai, by far the shortest flight of the many I have taken over the past four months.
The Doha transit seemed tight (no way would I have dared the sub-two hour connection in Europe) but ultimately was comfortable.
On the walk to my gate I took a few snaps of some of my retail favourites (The Watch Room, another recent addition, is particularly notable), knowing full well that next time I am through Hamad Internatonal (in another 13 days), much will have changed again. It might have been sunset (above right) as I flew into Hamad International but for Qatar Duty Free the sun is always rising.