Grand garden designs are all the rage in airports at the moment. Regular travelers may be familiar with Singapore Changi Airport’s Jewel, which opened before the pandemic, while the new terminal at India’s Bengaluru Airport also offers large expanses of greenery.
Possibly outdoing both of them is Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha. Its latest expansion has transformed the terminal into an indoor tropical oasis, complete with a 6,000 square foot water feature and a luxury line-up of branded boutiques in very close proximity that few capital cities could match. All of it just before the FIFA World Cup kicks off on November 20.
Called The Orchard, the 65,000 square foot garden—filled with more than 300 trees and over 25,000 plants sourced from sustainable forests around the world—sits at the center of the futuristic terminal expansion. Around it on the upper floor, the airport’s retailer, Qatar Duty Free, has managed to attract a roll call of the world’s biggest luxury names in some pretty stunning digital boutiques.
Two of the best are from Louis Vuitton and Fendi, but also present is the first Dior store at HIA, the first Thom Browne store in an airport plus Boss, Bulgari, Burberry, Gucci, Moncler, Montblanc, Omega, Polo Ralph Lauren
HIA had been named Skytrax’s world’s best airport for two years running before this latest addition. Together with Qatar Duty Free, both operations are subsidiaries of Qatar Airways Group whose CEO, Akbar Al Baker, said that the airport had grown to become “the ultimate example of a successful, sustainable global facility.” He added: “The environment here speaks for itself; it is unmatched anywhere in the world.”
With the FIFA World Cup dogged by controversy, Qatar Airways is ensuring it is on top form during the lead-in to the event, and during it, to avoid more negative commentary. As well as timing the reveal of the new extension and its upscale shopping perfectly, it has also put in place contingencies to cater to the influx of air travelers who, it is hoped, will be a source of significant extra retail revenue in the coming weeks.
At a press conference on Thursday, Al Baker reminded the media that Qatar’s former lead gateway, Doha International Airport, has been fully activated since September 15. The facility is taking all point-to-point traffic to the city as a way of easing the pressure on HIA. To be doubly sure of no capacity issues, Qatar Airways has “flattened the peak” at the hub by cutting 18 destinations during the period of the tournament.
Al Baker did hold back on the criticism that has come Qatar’s way in recent days, saying: “People cannot accept that a small country like Qatar has won the world’s largest sporting event. Congratulations to my beloved country. This extension mark a milestone in our FIFA journey which we have all been looking forward to for the past 12 years.”
The expansion takes HIA’s capacity up from 40 million passengers to 58 million annually. Future expansions will enable the gateway to handle 75 million travelers and the first phase of those will begin in January 2023 by extending the concourses on either side of The Orchard and which may allow for yet more retail facilities.
These developments, along with the high-end retail offer, reinforce HIA’s position as a global connecting air hub with 150 destinations and growing. The shopping and service elements are also drivers of non-aeronautical revenue, and profitability in particular. Qatar Airways Group does not break out its retail income but in the year ending March 2022, overall sales exceeded the same period to March 2020, while the group swung from a huge loss of over $4 billion in FY21 to a profit of $1.5 billion in FY22.
Prior to opening The Orchard, HIA had just over 430,000 square feet of duty-free and concession space housing more than 90 luxury and accessible stores, as well as more than 30 restaurants and cafés. The expansion project has delivered an additional 126,000 square feet of retail and F&B.