Qatar’s Spruced Up Airport Sees Spending Surge As Soccer World Cup Nears

Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Qatar managed to lift retail sales per passenger by 70% last year (versus 2019) on the back of a host of upgrades and new boutique launches in advance of the FIFA World Cup that will take place in the country in November. However, overall retail sales are assumed to be down on 2019 based on the large drop in traffic numbers compared to before the pandemic.

According to the airport, which is part of Qatar Airways Group, the operator of the gateway’s retail facilities Qatar Duty Free “observed a strong growth in revenue versus 2019.” While the growth rate may have been higher, driven by the hike in spending per passenger, the airport only processed 17.7 million travelers last year, roughly half of the record 38.8 million it handled in 2019.

The airport did not respond to questions from Forbes.com about its overall retail revenue in 2021 versus 2019. However, even with a 70% rise in individual spending this would not have been enough to exceed pre-pandemic sales levels given the sharp drop off in travelers.

For comparison, the larger Middle East hub, Dubai International, saw its duty-free retail sales cut in half to $960 million last year, and Paul Griffiths, CEO of the operator, Dubai Airports, said that the rate of recovery at the airport “has exceeded most other airports of comparable size.”

In a statement, Hamad International’s chief operating officer, Badr Mohammed Al Meer, said: “While the global aviation industry witnessed another tumultuous year, HIA set new benchmarks and expanded lifestyle offerings for its passengers. Qatar’s airport realizes the importance of the World Cup for incoming fans—many of whom fly across the world to witness the event. We are delighted to welcome them.”

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That welcome will include an extensive revamp and expansion of shopping and dining facilities at the hub. These helped HIA to topple Singapore’s Changi Airport and gain the title of World’s Best Airport in 2021.

Among the most high profile additions from Qatar Duty Free has been the luxury fashion space Viale Del Lusso. It houses a string of firsts in airport retailing and/or in the region including Valentino’s debut airport boutique in the Middle East; the first standalone airport boutique in the region from Emilio Pucci; Fendi and Jimmy Choo; plus the first Emporio Armani Ristorante and Emporio Armani Caffè in an airport anywhere.

Other new introductions have been Adidas, Apple AAPL and Hublot branded stores. The Swiss watchmaker, owned by French luxury group LVMH, launched its first travel retail boutique in the region at HIA in November. The brand has had a series of openings, including a boutique in Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center in Hawaii; a pop-up in WangFu Central in Beijing; and a large flagship boutique in Omotesando, Tokyo’s popular shopping district which opened on December 4.

Last year, the busiest departing destinations from Hamad International were Dhaka, Male, Dubai, Kathmandu and London. The airport—which currently serves 156 destinations—says that its preparations to handle the needs of the different passenger groups expected for the World Cup 2022 event include a dedicated standalone terminal. It will act as “the primary touch point” for processing FIFA teams and delegates.

HIA is also in expansion mode. In the current Phase A, the airport is set to increase capacity to more than 58 million passengers annually this year while Phase B, which will commence after the soccer event has ended, will increase HIA’s capacity to more than 60 million passengers.

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