MEADFA comes to Muscat: On location at the Middle East & Africa Duty Free Conference

Middle East

OMAN. The Middle East & Africa Duty Free Association (MEADFA) hosts its annual conference this week in Muscat, with over 400 delegates registered.

The conference offers an opportunity not only to gather for business but also for first-time visitors to see this extraordinary country, with its great cultural and tourism attractions, from its vast mountain ranges to the Arabian Sea.

The event began on Sunday night with the Opening Cocktail, before two days of conference sessions. Hosted by Muscat Duty Free – there will also be senior Omani government and Oman Aviation Group representation at the event – it is organised by TFWA, with The Moodie Davitt Report President Dermot Davitt co-moderating with TFWA Managing Director John Rimmer.

We’ll bring you rolling coverage of the event, in partnership with Nestlé International Travel Retail and Dubai Duty Free over coming days, before we move onto the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup later in the week, one of the social highlights of the industry year.

MONDAY 25 NOVEMBER

9.30 Delegates will have seen the bright outlook for the aviation industry in Oman when arriving in the country, with the stunning new Muscat International Airport speaking for itself. Oman Airports CEO Sheikh Aimen Ahemd Al Hosni looked at how both the new airport and the growth of flag carrier Oman Airways were merely a by-product of the country’s continuing aviation growth.

Much like other countries in the Middle East, the national airline, airport operator and aviation services are closely connected in Oman through the Oman Aviation Group. Speaking about the benefits of this model, Al Hosni said: “Through the destination airline, we can get more tourists.”

Indeed, Oman Airports is hoping Muscat International Airport will join other airports in Qatar and the UAE as one of the region’s leading hubs. This is with the view of the aviation sector’s contribution to GDP more than quadrupling to 890 million OMR (US$2.31 billion) by 2030.

Al Hosni said this can be achieved thanks to the long-range, narrow-body aircraft operated by Oman Airways that can reach China with greater ease. To stimulate this growth, three new airports (Salalah, Muscat and Duqm) have opened in a three-year period. Furthermore, the new Muscat Airport is six times bigger than the airport it has replaced, and will ultimately boost the country’s airport capacity to 48 million passengers per year.

The Indian Subcontinent (ISC) is the largest regional segment for passengers passing through airports in Oman, Al Hosni said. Interestingly, despite this demographic’s lower-than-average wallet size, their propensity to spend is higher. “If you know your passengers, you will know what to offer them. This is what our duty free company and commercial team are doing” he added.

Citing research from Airports Council International (ACI), which shows that retail concessions generate more than half of non-aeronautical revenue for airports in the Middle East, Al Hosni talked about the importance of retail in Oman’s burgeoning aviation scene.

Airport retail revenues are under threat from e-commerce and developing technology, Al Hosni added. “We would like to see how in the future we can invest in a better experience for our customers,” he said.

To compensate for this threat, Oman Airports is looking at how to create full digital retail engagement and using sophisticated technology to maximise resource utilisation.

Al Hosni concluded by saying that Oman Airports felt it could also benefit from delivering high customer satisfaction through airports that have a strong Sense of Place, while delivering Omani hospitality and smart technology.

9.05 MEADFA President Haitham Al Majali gave his assessment of the health of the travel retail market across the Middle East and Africa in his welcome address.

He opened by saying: “Oman is one of those countries that truly makes you feel at home when you arrive. The friendliness, kind atmosphere and generous culture all make one feel like they are in a place where they belong.”

Al Majali gave figures from Generation Research, which showed that in the first six months of 2019, sales in the Middle East travel retail market were +1.5% and Africa was +3.9% compared to 2018. “[That is] encouraging and I look forward to our session dedicated to African travel retail,” he added.

Oman Aviation Services CEO Dr Khalfan Said Al Shueili then gave his own welcome. “It gives me great honour to welcome you to this event in our beautiful country, Oman. We are very proud to host this event,” he said.

In the wake of challenges, such as the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max and carry-on luggage restrictions, Al Shelin said: “There remains great potential for further innovation. Nevertheless, we have to safeguard our environment.”

9.00 Conference moderators, The Moodie Davitt Report President Dermot Davitt and TFWA Managing Director John Rimmer, got the first day of the conference underway.

“Here in Oman, we are in one of the most dynamic markets for travel and travel retail,” Davitt said

Rimmer added: “We are proud to bring the conference here for the first time. We had a taste of the legendary Omani hospitality at the Opening Cocktail last night.”

SUNDAY 24 NOVEMBER

20.00 The Opening Cocktail kicks off MEADFA 2019, with a lovely open air event at the Kempinski Hotel, Muscat, featuring local music, dance and other entertainment.

A strong Dubai Duty Free team is in attendance at MEADFA 2019, with COO Ramesh Cidambi among the speakers on Monday

At the Sunday evening Cocktail event were Bottega Founder Sandro Bottega, recently appointed MMI Managing Director International Markets & Travel Retail Marius Fouché, Duty Free Global Founder Barry Geoghegan and Dubai Airports Executive Vice President Commercial Group Eugene Barry


14.00 The stunning Kempinski Hotel (below) is home to MEADFA 2019, where the finishing touches are being put to the stage and ballroom before the Cocktail tonight and main plenary sessions begin on Monday.

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