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Dubai and Saudi go head to head in new luxury hospitality ventures

Two massive projects in the Middle East could open up unprecedented opportunities for drinks makers.

Things are hotting up in the Middle East as two huge projects are set to bring significant chances for those working in the drinks space.

In Dubai, more than US$35 billion is being pumped into opening the world’s biggest airport, which is likely to become a gold mine for global travel retail.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the upgraded Al Maktoum International Airport will have five parallel runways, 400 aircraft gates, and the capacity to welcome 260 million passengers. He added that plans were in place to build “an entire city around the airport”, with housing for one million people, and stated his ambition for Dubai to become “the world’s airport, its port, its urban hub, and its new global centre.”

Construction is expected to take 10 years and cost around US$35 billion.

Dubai airports have already played host to some high-profile pop-up boutiques for drinks brands, including this month’s Royal Salute luxury store, a joint venture by Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail and Dubai Duty Free.

Housed in Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport, the store is described as a first-of-its-kind experiential boutique offering “extremely rare expressions” from the Royal Salute portfolio of Scotch whiskies.

Last year, the drinks business reported that Dubai Duty Free was among a handful of operators to sign a “zero-tolerance” declaration on illicit trade within the global travel retail sector. The declaration is designed to combat the increase in goods being fraudulently labelled as duty-free.

“There can be no room for doubt. We want to send a clear message worldwide – when you shop in a duty-free shop, you can do so with complete confidence,” said Sarah Branquinho, president of the the Duty Free World Council.

Saudi spend

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is looking for “big spenders” to visit the first part of its Neom megaproject, a private island called Sindalah, due to welcome tourists by the end of this year. Saudi hopes the island will give it an edge over Dubai in the luxury stakes and is targeting high net worth visitors and the yachting community as its primary guests.

Sindalah promises “the finest experiences life has to offer” and according to its website aims to “take high-end tourism to new levels.”

The island is set to have three luxury hotels, a golf course, sports club, beach club, spa facility, 86-berth marina, and “dozens of restaurants and shops.” A deal has also been signed with Marriott International for premium “apartment-style” accommodation, all part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’ project.

The private island’s bars and restaurants will serve only the most exclusive wine and spirits brands as such as these 10 most expensive Champagnes in the world as part of its “world class hospitality and fine dining” scene.

Earlier this year, Bonham’s new global head of wine and spirits Amayès Aouli told db that the Arabian Peninsular could be the next big growth area for fine wine.

“I’m very much looking for the Arabic Peninsula to be small yet powerful place for fine wine,” he said. Aouli added that he had noticed “a strong pickup of interest for fine wine in the whole Arabic Peninsula starting with Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates), which has lowered the tariffs for fine wine at custom.”

Rare and highly sought-after bottles such as The Macallan ‘Adami’ 1926, which set a new world record for the most expensive whisky ever sold at auction when it went for £2 million in November, may also be the calibre of drink on offer for Sindalah guests with deep pockets.

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