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Three Years Out of the Gate, Hamad International Airport Soars To New Heights

Asia-Pacific Airports Magazine interviews HIA’s chief operating officer about the HOK-designed airport’s rise in traffic and customer satisfaction.

Excerpted from Asia-Pacific Airports Magazine:

It may be just three years old, but Qatar’s new gateway to the world, Hamad International Airport (HIA), has already made a big impression for its design, state-of-the-art facilities, IT innovation and reputation for delivering top-quality customer service.

Doha’s new airport has scooped a number of design awards—its wave inspired roof has particularly impressed the construction industry—and become one of the go-to places for pioneering new technology and new passenger processes.

Its facilities and services, which include one of the largest collections of artwork at an airport, have wowed passengers to such an extent that it is one of only six gateways on the planet to earn a 5-Star Airport rating from Skytrax.

Designed by HOK, the airport’s three-story terminal building has five concourses and is equipped with a huge central plaza, 41 gates, 25,000 square meters of duty-free and concessions space (retail and F&B outlets), and an extensive public arts program showcasing the contemporary and classic work of several nationally and internationally acclaimed artists.

“The terminal’s design emphasizes Qatari hospitality and gives visitors a spectacular and lasting impression of the country,” notes Mark Otsea, AIA, HOK’s project director. “While contemporary in design to mirror Qatar’s progressive growth, the design also pays homage to the nation’s rich cultural heritage and natural environment.”

In addition to the main passenger terminal, the gateway has 20 remote stands, a 29-hectare lagoon that reinforces the visual and physical connections to the sea, parking for 3,400 vehicles, and a 2,100-sq.-m. mosque that resembles a glass shell.

In this exclusive Q&A, the airport’s chief operating officer, Badr Mohammed Al-Meer, discusses Hamad International Airport’s customer service philosophy as well as a host of other topics ranging from IT innovation, traffic growth, and its art and entertainment programs.

How would you describe 2016 for the airport in terms of traffic growth?

It was an exceptional year for our airport, breaking the records for passenger, aircraft and cargo traffic. A new high of 37.3 million passengers passed through our facilities in 2016, which represented growth of 20.5 percent on the previous year. Our performance was equally strong in the number of aircraft movements and cargo, which increased by 15.8 percent and 20.8 percent respectively, making Hamad International Airport one of the world’s key cargo hubs. Based on the latest numbers from the region, we are the fastest-growing airline hub in the Middle East, and we expect 2017 to be another great year for HIA, surpassing the 40-million-passenger mark.

How important is customer service to HIA?

Customer service is the basic component of our DNA, and developing and implementing a holistic passenger experience strategy was a key priority even before the airport became operational. We initially invested heavily in understanding more about our passengers and their expectations for the brand new airport in terms of its facilities, services and communication with them. What we learned was incorporated into our passenger experience and commercial strategy to allow us to better deliver and measure the products that would satisfy the diverse needs of our passengers.

Would you tell us about your arts and entertainment strategy?

HIA prides itself on being an innovative exhibition space. Art is an integral part of HIA, having been designed to house permanent and temporary exhibitions. Passengers are exposed to a diverse set of artistic media including paintings, sculpture, electronic and interactive installations. Our airport terminal is a public space that welcomes millions of people every year and is therefore an ideal space to interact with art. Our iconic Lamp Bear (above) by renowned Swiss artist Urs Fischer is located at the heart of the airport and is our landmark for art.

Was it always the plan for HIA to be a pioneer in the use of new technology?

HIA was designed with technology as one of its key contributing factors in delivering operational excellence. A digital transformation program is also currently underway to ensure that we continue setting benchmarks in customer experience, while improving our efficiency, safety and security. We have embraced ACI/IATA’s Smart Security concept by volunteering to be a pilot airport for new technologies. Having one of the most advanced airport IT platforms, during the first trials that took place last year, we were able to significantly improve efficiency and reduce waiting times throughout the passenger journey by enabling self-service processes. The success of the smart airport pilot program has validated our plans to promptly introduce the next generation common-use self-service check-in and self-service bag drop services.

In parallel, we have also invested heavily in providing passengers with easy-to-access, complimentary unlimited high-speed Wi-Fi. Furthermore, the iBeacon enabled mobile app launched in 2016 offers dynamic wayfinding and live airport information and will ultimately offer engaging interaction with our passengers. Focusing on airport efficiency, our state-of-the-art Operations Control Center, equipped with the most advanced technology, has ensured safe and reliable operations. It has also resulted in making HIA one of the best on-time performance airports in the world.

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