SAUDI ARABIA. Almusbah Group, which has a powerful array of retail, food & beverage and car parking contracts across Middle East and Africa airports, including 27 in its home territory of Saudi Arabia, has just unveiled three new stores and a refurbished multi-category 350sq m duty paid shop at King Fahd International Airport in Damman. The company also recently built a new 3,000 space long stay car park to support the airport’s growing needs.

Our Senior Business Editor Mark Lane discusses the new openings, the company’s airport portfolio and its ambitions for international travel retail expansion with Group Business Development Director Andrew Perrier.

The alluring entrance to the refurbished Xplora Travel Retail store at King Fahd International Airport

Asked about high-profile moves to diversify into airport food & beverage by major travel retailers Dufry and Lagardère, and how that changes the international travel retail landscape, Almusbah Group Business Development Director Andrew Perrier pulls no punches.

“We have had F&B in our airport portfolio since the 1980s when we opened our first coffee shop, alongside the first Almusbah retail shop, in Jeddah Airport. For the next 35 years we had F&B and retail operating throughout all 27 airports in Saudi Arabia including airline catering contracts,” he says.

“The rest of the market is only now starting to catch up to us. So, when I read about Dufry and Autogrill coming together and the suggestions in the media that they are creating something unique, we actually thought, ‘At last someone else is trying to follow our path.’ ”

The Almusbah airport portfolio

Almusbah – a traditional Saudi trading business with multiple specialisms, founded 50 years ago by Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Almusbahi – has a long track record as a diverse airport commercial sector innovator.

Two new stores opened by Almusbah Group at King Fahd International Airport. Shababuna (above) offers destination merchandise and HNAK (below) specialises in travel essentials and convenience products.

Almusbah Group Business Development Director Andrew Perrier is seeking international airport commercial opportunities, as the company targets expansion outside its Saudi Arabia home market

That first airport café, named Coffee Talk, opened in 1989 at the same time as an Almusbah perfume and gifts store at King Abdulaziz International in Jeddah– these two openings were the company’s first foray into the airport industry.

“These names have grown across the airports nationwide since then and these brands have become synonymous for a generation of Saudi travellers,” says Perrier. “Almusbah really became the commercial pioneers for the Saudi airports as we developed further brands.”

These brands include QuickWrap for luggage protection and luggage accessories; the Xplora baggage range; and Mawgif for airport parking technology, valet and operations.

Saudi Duty Free was formed through an initial Almusbah/Al Deasa joint venture back in 2007; and in 2011 Almusbah won an international tender for running VIP Terminals and VIP services in the main Saudi Arabian airports. The company invested heavily in refreshing the related facilities through a partnership with Plaza Premium Group.

There has also been significant investment into the F&B side of the business, Perrier notes. In 2005, Almusbah established major central kitchens to support its F&B contracts in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam airports, and its emergency catering services offer to international airlines.

Almusbah’s first non-Saudi airport contract came in 2013 for car parking technology and valet services at the newly opened Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan, a contract it still holds proudly today.

A strong luxury brand offer features in the upgraded Xplora Travel Retail store

“Building on this, further Middle East expansion came in 2015 when we won a car parking and valet tender for Abu Dhabi International and Al Bateen Executive airports,” says Perrier. “Then, in 2015, we won a ten-year concession contract from Dubai Airports including upgrading the parking technology and operations and in 2020 we won the tender for a 15-year concession with Sharjah International Airport for a similar service.”

The Africa opportunity

Perrier, who was recently elected to the ACI World Business Partner Programme World Advisory Board, reveals that Almusbah has just won its first airport contracts in Africa. The company has recently signed a five-year contract to set up QuickWrap to deliver luggage services at two major Nigerian airports in Lagos and Abuja. It is also currently looking at other opportunities in Africa.

Asked about the attractiveness of the African market, he replies: “We are excited about the opportunities in the growing African aviation market, not least in Nigeria, the most-populated country in Africa. Once African countries reach an Open Skies agreement, the continent is going to take off. Our commitment to the market is reflected in Almusbah’s status as an ACI Africa World Business Partner.”

New retail at King Fahd Airport

Back in its home market, Almusbah has just unveiled a refurbished 350sq m, multi-category duty paid Xplora Travel Retail store at Damman’s King Fahd International Airport. The upgrade – which includes new flooring, new LED lighting at entry points and a fresh fit out of cabinets and shelves – has been delivered as part of new five-year retail contract at the travel hub, which also involves opening four new stores.

Perrier comments: “The well-refurbished arrival shop gives an enhanced retail experience to customers with high-end luxury brands across a variety of categories. Likewise, our 1,695sq m domestic departure store has been well laid out to provide a unique customer experience.”

The 100sq m stores include two own-brand offerings in the form of Shababuna (local gifts, travel essentials and souvenirs) and HNAK (travel essentials and convenience products).

Of the Shababuna concept, Perrier says: “We created Shababuna to meet the growing demand of quality local gifts and souvenirs. For approximately 34 years Almusbah has been providing Oud and perfume gifts in all the 27 airports in both duty free and duty paid locations so we know the market and demand for the products.

“That demand is accelerating now with the growth of religious tourism after COVID and the encouragement of non-religious tourism to Saudi Arabia.”

There is also a new 400sq m WHSmith shop in arrivals (pictured below) which is self-operated by Almusbah, extending a partnership with the UK retailer in Saudi Arabian airports which has run for more than ten years. The refreshed Almusbah line-up at King Fahd International Airport will be completed with the upcoming opening of a 140sq m sports shop in international departures airside.

International ambitions

Discussing Almusbah’s future travel retail ambitions, Perrier says that digital development will be a key focus, highlighting the rapid growth of the company’s My Mawgif app for airport parking services in the Middle East and an ecommerce platform to pre-order products from HNAK airport stores.

“Both of these apps have been developed in-house and so we have the ability to white label them to airports for using for their other products and services without the airport having to invest into another application. This will be an important element of our expansion.”

He concludes: “Our ambition is to grow our travel and airport portfolio beyond the Gulf countries and take our Saudi-developed technology and brands to other regions.” ✈

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