A different kind
of Trinity


From a unique airline, airport and retail perspective, delegates heard from His Excellency Akbar Al Baker. He is CEO of Qatar Airways Group, Secretary General of the Qatar National Tourism Council and CEO of several divisions of Qatar’s national airline, including Qatar Executive, Hamad International Airport, Qatar Aviation Services, Qatar Aircraft Catering Company, Qatar Distribution Company, Qatar Duty Free and Internal Media Services.

Opening his speech, Al Baker said: “I am delighted and honoured to welcome you to Doha for the very first Trinity Forum to be held in my country.”

Rallying cry: “We don’t intend to compete with our neighbours on size, we intend to compete on quality”

Al Baker discussed the distinctive Qatar Airways commercial model that sees airline, airport and retailer operate as the same company. “Our Trinity of airport, airline and retailer allows us to adopt a long-term approach and avoid a short-term cycle of tenders that discourages investment. We can focus on the customer journey and implement next-generation ideas and enhancements. I appreciate we are in an enviable position to pursue this strategy,” he told delegates.

Adding how important it was for stakeholders to talk about optimising the concession model, Al Baker said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin Moodie for the work you are doing in organising this special Forum every year.”

As extensively covered in the previous issue of The Moodie Davitt eZine, an additional 160,000sq m of space will soon be introduced at Hamad International Airport as part of bold expansion plans to Qatar’s main gateway. Offering an insight into these plans, Al Baker said: “What we are trying to do enhance even further the fantastic experience people already have at the airport. We want Hamad International Airport to be a destination in itself; what we are going to provide is an experience that is second to none.”

This second phase of expansion is due to be completed by 2022, when Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup. “We are getting back to the growth rate from before the illegal blockade of my country and we will accommodate over 53 million passengers in time for the World Cup.”

The third and final phase of expansion will commence after this, bringing the airport’s annual capacity up to 70 million. “Our neighbours and competitors should be satisfied that we will compete not on size but on quality. Hamad International will always be the quality airport and the airport that will be sought after by our customers,” said Al Baker.

In what was a surprise to many guests, he added: “In case people are getting excited about this constant expansion, I can say that at 70 million we will stop.” Elaborating, he said: “That is because that is the size of hub that my country needs. Plans for the phase two expansion focuses on capacity and passenger experience – we want to provide even better airport journeys to more people around the world. The expansion will allow us to do this.”

The upgraded, enhanced environment should encourage travellers to feel more welcome and in turn, to feel comfortable their time shopping and dining at the airport, said Al Baker.

“We know that the retail environment at the airport plays an important part in the journey. No matter how positive their experience onboard our aircraft has been, if they find the airport and shops stressful, it will colour their view of our industry.

“It is therefore incumbent upon us all to get the entire customer experience right. Today’s international traveller expects more than just good products and prices. They don’t want to spend their time scanning aisle after aisle of discounted products. Instead they want to feel calm, relaxed and inspired. The airport retail experience must tick all these boxes and that is our challenge.”

He said the positive experience must span all parts of the journey. “We are working hard to go above and beyond for customers and this starts at the airport. This explains why we have invested in the experience at Hamad International Airport, by employing cutting edge technology to ensure a frictionless journey for the customer.

“Our ‘smart airport’ programme unlocks the power of technology to create the airport of the future, and empowers the customer to take control of their journey. It is our ambition to be at the forefront of the latest innovations to enhance the experience and deliver operational excellence.

“There are many other reasons I believe Hamad International Airport is one of the very best airports in the world. It is home to world-class art collections, sophisticated shopping and dining, and premium relaxation and leisure activities, all in one terminal.”

In an invitation to brands attending The Trinity Forum, he added: “As the airport’s retail space expands, we will look to extend our partnership with existing partners and introduce new ones. We are keen to talk to brands about partnerships and to learn from other places.”

On the creation of a waterfall and gardens, Al Baker added: “You will see us create Hamad International as a destination in itself. It will be an experience that is second to none. We can make this in a perfect manner. This is our long planned jewel in the second phase.

“I must add that we will not affect your [brand] investments. So the people who have partnered with us in duty free will prosper. The new jewel that we plan will be part of the airport, so people don’t have to leave the airport and clear immigration and customs to shop outside [a pointed reference to the Jewel Changi Airport facility situated landside in Singapore -Ed]. They will stay inside close to the duty free business so that adds value to our partners and we invite others to open in the expanded 12,000sq m.”

His Excellency Akbar Al Baker’s presentation was well-received as delegates enjoyed listening to his candid assessment of a range of topics

In a compelling on-stage Q&A with The Moodie Davitt Report Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie, Al Baker reiterated his view that managing duty free and other services in-house is the right model for the group.

“The Qatar Airways Group is unique in the industry in its ability to deliver an outstanding customer experience across all touchpoints with our own Trinity of airline, airport and retailer.

“This mutually beneficial relationship allows us to take a long-term approach and avoid a never-ending short-term cycle of tenders that effectively discourages investment. We can keep a laser-like focus on the customer journey, and empower the long-term health of the business by implementing next generation ideas and enhancements. Here in Qatar we are in an enviable position to pursue this strategy. The message is that the three elements of the Trinity can unlock value by working more closely to improve the retail experience and contributing positively to the bottom line.”

He added: “The operating model we have today is the one that works for our business. We can ensure that our revenue stream is not stolen by the small print someone else imposes in a contract. We are in control of what we sell and how we do it, and we create a business model that is win-win for all. Qatar Duty Free is an important profit centre for the airline and it’s my job to ensure it is sustained.

“It’s important also that people don’t only come here as partners in the good times. We want long-term commitments that make money for everyone. I don’t believe in any business that is a one-way street but that can only happen if we take a long-term view. Maybe in ten years we will think differently but today we want to be directly involved in every aspect of our business.”

Great expectations, grand ambitions: Al Baker took part in a Q&A session with The Moodie Davitt Report Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie

Speaking candidly about the June 2016 blockade led by other Gulf states that continues to affect Qatar, Al Baker said: “This was a wake-up call. Today we are self-sustaining as an economy, it has made us more independent and proud. And it has showed to the world that no matter how small you are, when it comes to sovereignty, dignity, self-respect, even a small nation can stand up to big nations. We have shown what leadership and stability can do for people. And we have high expectations of our ability to deliver.

“We lost 18 destinations overnight and lost a US$1.75 billion market when the blockade came but we didn’t shy away from expansion. We replaced the 18 destinations with 34 new ones. We kept on receiving new aircraft, and are pushing Airbus and Boeing to keep supplying our demand. We continued to build our infrastructure and think for the future.

“We have no evil intention towards anyone. We want to be the best and work with others. If they take one step towards us, we will take 1,000 steps towards them. But they have put all their cards on the table, which you should never do in diplomacy. You have to keep the door open.”

He also addressed plans for the FIFA World Cup, which is set to be the biggest global event ever to take place in the Middle East.

“It will be the first event of its size in our region. We will be well prepared. Qatar Airways is focused on ensuring this whole event will be a resounding success, and we encourage other carriers to do the same.

“As a country we are 80% ready for the World Cup, at an advanced stage like no host country ever was before. As well as expanding at Hamad International, we will refurbish Doha Airport to spread the volume across two airports. We also have air bases that can take corporate flights. We are making sure we have enough capacity to cater for all the traffic coming our way. The World Cup will boost our businesses, our reputation and the brand of Qatar.”

A man in demand: His Excellency Akbar Al Baker’s address caught the attention of both local and international media

Al Baker then discussed the in-house retail concession model, which he said was a “win-win for everybody”. However, he added that different operating models would be right for different airports. “Every airport has a different operating model, but how we operate today is the model we would like to continue for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Finally, he discussed Qatar Airways’ recent decision to drop inflight retail. “We are creating additional space that can be used to enhance the comfort and the passenger experience,” he said. “We are working on a website where you will be able to order duty free, which can be delivered at the arriving airport or Hamad International Airport, so you don’t have to go through the duty free catalogue.”

The Moodie Davitt eZine

Issue 271 | 19 November 2019

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 20 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd).

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