The magnificent stage created on the apron at Muscat International Airport, scene of Sunday night’s Grand Opening; flight schedules were even moved to accommodate the event.

OMAN. The Grand Opening of the stunning Muscat International Airport took place in spectacular fashion on Sunday night. The event, held under the patronage of His Highness Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for Oman’s Council of Ministers, celebrated Oman’s rich heritage and culture, and its emergence onto the global aviation stage, through music, video and words.

It brought together leading figures from Oman’s government, Oman Aviation Group senior executives, business partners and media from around the world, with The Moodie Davitt Report representing travel retail. Muscat International Airport (opened in March but celebrating its inauguration as part of the country’s National Day celebrations) has an initial capacity for 20 million passengers a year, with an expansion potential for 56 million passengers.

The event reflected on Oman’s journey as a country, and the new gateway’s place in the life of the nation, all displayed on three vast screens built at one of the piers.

The culmination of the Grand Opening was a beautiful fireworks display in the sky above the airport.

Oman Minister for Transport and Communication His Excellency Dr Ahmed Al Futaisi told us: “Opening a new airport is a great achievement, and this is a landmark for our country. We have built it to reflect an Omani touch mixed with a modern look.

“Airports are a strong enabler for any country. Our vision is to make aviation an enabler for tourism and travel. Our focus is not on Oman as a transit hub, although it plays that role, but to make Oman a destination.

“We can confidently say that Oman has now met most of the required infrastructure needs that will enable the main economic sectors to flourish, from roads to ports to airports.” [A video interview of His Excellency speaking to The Moodie Davitt Report will follow.]

The airport, which opened to travellers in March, marked its Grand Opening on Sunday as Oman’s National Day looms next week; the terminal features the latest technology with a neat Sense of Omani Place.

A major highlight of the new airport is Muscat Duty Free’s upgraded and expanded offer, which is among the highest in class within the ARI network and one of the most impressive stores of an airport of this size anywhere. It features a range of new concepts and many first-to market brands. It blends a tailored luxury range with accessible offers across all categories, and features some striking merchandising executions and eye-catching installations.

The stores carry a highly visible Omani Sense of Place in the fit-out and furniture, there is a sharp focus on digitalisation, and the offer is underpinned by a strong emphasis on value messages and signage throughout. Muscat Duty Free is a partnership between Oman Air (part of the government-owned joint stock company Oman Aviation Group, which was created in February) and ARI-Middle East.

Picturesque panorama: The two beauty stores lie at the heart of the Muscat Duty Free space, each offering eye-catching stop points.

Other notable elements in the commercial offer are new stores and concepts from BTA Catering (F&B), WHSmith (news & books); a high-class lounge offer (from Oman Air and TAV Operation Services’ Prime Class brand) spa brand BeRelax, an Aerotel hotel from Plaza Premium, plus consumer technology (within the Muscat Duty Free offer) managed by Capi.

“We are challenging ourselves to improve. In the old airport, the space was condensed and there was not much we could improve in that environment. Now we are seeing growth in revenues.”

The terminal’s total gross floor area is about 580,000sq m, with retail and F&B both airside and landside covering 12,000sq m. Within this, Muscat Duty Free accounts for close to 6,500sq m – a sharp increase on the 2,300sq m at the previous airport. The company manages 22 outlets compared to ten previously.

Muscat Duty Free General Manager Martin Mullen (right) and Operations Manager Pat O’Connor with the Lego Sinbad character and cannon, among many features dotted around the store.

The product range has been expanded by +53%, from 17,000 SKUs to 26,000 and the number of brands has risen from 450 to over 600. Staff levels have been enhanced too, from 320 to 530, with 70% of them Omanis – a key figure amid the ‘Omanisation’ drive across the business.

Above, a walk through Muscat Duty Free (video courtesy of Marshall Arts International and airportdynamics.tv)

A strong performer, Muscat Market is a key attraction for ex-pat workers, with a range of categories (led by confectionery) at accessible price points.

Strong, clear messaging is a feature of the store; here signage in Bengali makes a clear statement about the offer to shoppers from the Indian sub-continent.

Spirits (above) and beauty products popular among ex-pat workers are features of Muscat Market, with value messaging clear and consistent.

The Muscat Market design draws inspiration from the landscape of Oman.

The confectionery offer at Muscat Market is partly mirrored in the premium core category LTC store; travel retail exclusive brand Harison is pictured.

Oman Aviation Services CEO and Muscat Duty Free Chairman Dr. Khalfan Said Al Shueili said: “This is a long awaited piece of infrastructure for Oman and is a milestone. It is a gateway, a connection to the rest of the world, for travellers both in and out of Oman. The infrastructure is lavish, with extraordinary design.

“We have an obligation on behalf of Oman Aviation Group to ensure that our services add value. The duty free is an important pillar in the commercialisation of this airport. We have over 600 brands and that figure is still growing, in shops that feature impressive architecture and design, excellent display of products and with very well-trained staff.

“Muscat Duty Free represents a very different shopping experience, with many types of products. We are working hard to attract even more brands. Through Oman Air we have new connections to China, new destinations in Russia and we are targeting those customers directly. We are assessing what products they want and communicating with them strongly while they travel through our airport.”

“We are challenging ourselves to improve. In the old airport, the space was condensed and there was not much we could improve in that environment. Now we are seeing growth in revenues.

“We are putting a lot of effort into growing spend per passengers and to meet the standards in this region. It is all about how we display and how we communicate, especially with a high proportion of transit passengers here. Our national carrier has the challenge to connect them quickly but that does not always favour shopping because time is short. But because we are all in one organisation under Oman Aviation Group we are working to bridge these gaps and we will learn as we go.”

Beauty represents 25% of sales in departures, and benefits from the inclusion of many brands available for the first time in Oman. Urban Decay, Kiehl’s and Benefit are among the strong early performers in skincare and make-up.

Highlighting the airport-only nature of certain brands is a drawcard for local and regional consumers, says the retailer.

Walking the store in advance of the Grand Opening, it is clear that the new environment – with design by ODG – offers a spectacular upgrade from the previous facility.

The duty free space is segmented neatly and clearly into zones, each with a defined appeal and offer.

Coming through security one gets a full view of the environment, with beauty ahead – led an eye-catching digital ceiling pod – the Muscat Market outlet (the best-performing of the duty free zones to date) to the left and premium spirits & wines to the right.

Muscat Market is led by a strong and heavily personalised confectionery zone, with many entry level price points aimed at encouraging spend from ex-pat travellers from the Indian sub-continent. The zone features a specially created palm tree ceiling design, taking inspiration from the Omani landscape. With the goal of engaging specific travellers, various languages are also used, including Bengali, on signage, to entice interest among key shoppers groups in this store.

Muscat Duty Free General Manager Martin Mullen speaks to Peter Marshall about the project and its key highlights (video courtesy of Marshall Arts International and airportdynamics.tv)

Walls of Nido and Tang draw the travellers into the store, with key brands in having created personalised space. Highlights include a KitKat bus, Chupa Chups’ dhow, Butlers’ tailored packaging, Kinder’s airport style fixturing, a Milka cow and some great digital advertising from M&M’s.

One of the strongest performers is Lindt’s Pick & Mix zone, which has proved highly popular with passengers across all demographics, and Indians in particular.

“Brands have given great support to us in Muscat Market,” said Muscat Duty Free General Manager Martin Mullen, “and helped us created talking points throughout. Some 38% of travellers fly to India so this is a key nationality, and we think their potential is even higher.”

This store was designed to encourage the sub-continent traveller to fill their baskets as they pass through, starting with confectionery, coming through entry to mid-level spirits and closing with mid-priced sunglasses (Invu is a key reference), watches (Rado is a leading seller in this store) and skincare, from L’Oréal Paris to Revlon to Nivea.

Capi was introduced to the Muscat Duty Free mix to add expertise in electronics.

From Muscat Market, the same travellers are often also attracted across the aisle to electronics, which is managed by Capi, with WHSmith’s store also adjacent (the adjacencies across duty free, other retail and dining are key and well thought out within the terminal).

Mullen said: “Capi do a very good job here, with their Gadget Table and other in-store concepts. Apple and related accessories are a key reference point for travellers. It’s the first time we have been able to make this kind of wide offer available in this category. We will add to this to include more appliances that are also popular among sub-continent travellers.”

This spectacular media installation sits between the perfumes and cosmetics stores at the heart of the P&C offer.

Beauty lies at the heart of the offer and is represented in two classy, elegant environments, one for skincare and cosmetics, the other across the middle aisle for fragrances. In departures, beauty represents 25% of the business, behind only liquor at 31% and ahead of food & confectionery at 21%.

In skincare and make-up, new brands include Benefit (the number one brand in cosmetics in September), Kiehl’s, Urban Decay, Smashbox, Bobbi Brown, La Prairie, Shiseido, L’Occitane and La Mer. Local brands such as Oliban are also a key part of the mix.

“That element of exclusivity is very important,” said Mullen. “People cannot find these brands downtown so they come early to the airport to buy.”

Jo Malone: An outstanding performer to date.

Amouage offers a wonderful experiential zone in the P&C area (above and below).

In fragrances, Jo Malone is only available at the airport in Oman and is proving an outstanding seller, notably among local and GCC travellers, said Muscat Duty Free. Carolina Herrera is performing well, while Hermès is another brand that can only be found at the airport within Oman, and Cartier another first.

Highlights here include a zone for niche premium fragrances, a frankincense tree that tells the history of the aromatic resin, a ‘wheel of perfume’ digital installation that allows travellers to choose their preferred scents, and adjacent, an outstanding experiential area for Amouage, from fragrances to accessories.

Digital dynamism: The Wheel of Perfume allows shoppers to select the fragrance that suits them best.

The niche fragrances offer in its own dedicated space.

The ‘frankincense tree’ draws inspiration from Omani heritage.

Digital installations are powerful tools within both beauty areas, with the eye-catching Dior campaign an unmissable element in the heart of the area.

The Whisky Collection: An ARI concept brought to life in a new way (mainly through Scotch) in Muscat.

New concepts from Dewar’s and Johnnie Walker help engage and interest travellers.

White spirits feature prominently, in space that carries its own bespoke design.

The premium spirits zone led by Scotch whiskies, with an emerging emphasis on white spirits. Among the highlights is a special distillery-themed area from Dewar’s and a novel Johnnie Walker concept. Wines (supplied through a partnership with Dubai-based MMI) and Champagnes are well represented in good space, while the walk-in cigar shop and humidor is among the most impressive one will see in travel retail, with a welcoming VIP cigar room adjacent to the store (with supply from Phoenicia in Beirut.)

The value message is a key one for tobacco.

A stunning showcase for cigars, in space set aside from the main shop; a fully equipped VIP room lies adjacent and will be developed further.

Jewellery is led by Swarovski, Tous and Thomas Sabo in their own dedicated space, ARI concept Spectrum takes a boutique approach to sunglasses (with some striking digital media) while fashion is headed by elegant boutiques from Michael Kors, Hugo Boss and Polo Ralph Lauren.

Other highlights include Kids Kingdom, with a wonderfully colourful cannon that ‘goes off’ every few seconds next to a Lego Sinbad; a special gourmet store that houses local artisan brands alongside premium delicatessen names and a Fashion Arcade that includes sportswear and lifestyle brands from Lacoste to Hackett.

The full Spectrum: One of the most visually appealing stores (and there are many), housing ARI’s updated sunglasses concept.

Dermot Davitt ‘virtually’ tries out the latest Ray-Ban eyewear on the digital screen in the sunglasses shop.

Mullen noted: “We have a great facility; now we aim to make it come alive even more. We create a lot of theatre already but we have an ambitious marketing campaign for 2019, combining social media, creating awareness among key nationalities and reinforcing our value message through clear and compelling signage.”

Smart signage: The value message and other services from the retailer are well communicated throughout the stores.

Among the next big initiatives will be the opening of a luxury watches store early next year, while Muscat Duty Free also plans to open a small unit in the Prime Class lounge.

Sparkling touch: Swarovski, Tous and Thomas Sabo lead the jewellery offer.

Fashion Avenue and Fashion Arcade appear on either side of the walkways before travellers head for gates, and are each neatly located close to F&B offers that chime with shoppers likely to visit them.

Of the terminal development, Oman Airports Chief Commercial Officer Samer Ahmed Al Nahbani said: “Our wider strategy is led by the need to attract more airlines and boost the tourism sector, especially with this new opening. Relaxing visa regulations for many nationalities is one element.

“The non-aeronautical strategy was built around premiumising the offer and mirrors the fact that this new building is best-in-class. There is no comparison with the old airport, in size or quality. We are working hard to grow the ratio of non-aeronautical revenues and we’ll do that with help from our duty free and F&B partners.”

Among other key commercial developments, WHSmith’s latest store concept appears here.

WHSmith’s partnership with Ajit Khimji Group covers seven stores at Muscat International Airport, with brands such as Al Nassma well represented.

The main F&B offer from TAV-owned BTA Catering includes upscale restaurant Noor and tapas bar Luna.

BeRelax brings its spa brand to Muscat International, with this location on the walk to gates.

Also speaking to The Moodie Davitt Report, Oman Air CEO Abdul Aziz Saud Al Raisi said: “We invest today for Oman tomorrow. The returns will come down the line but they must be made now. As an airline, we have been around for more than 20 years and the only thing we lacked until now was a proper airport. Now this beautiful airport helps create a seamless journey and a very nice experience.

“Our growth plan at Oman is different to that in neighbouring countries. We are promoting Oman as a destination. That is our aim. Today we have about 30% of traffic going point to point at Muscat and the rest is hub traffic. We would like to have 40% point to point at least.

“We have about 40 new aircraft on order and are expanding but gradually and steadily. In 2018 we opened four more stations and we’ll open five in 2019, with more frequencies to Europe and the Gulf in addition to these. We will focus more on Africa too, with the aim of connecting Africa with Asia, with traffic between these regions a big opportunity.”

*Watch out for the in-depth story on Muscat International and Muscat Duty Free, featuring more video, images and commentary on the big travel retail talking points, in next week’s edition of The Moodie Davitt e-Zine.