What’s in store for Hamad International Airport
At Passenger Terminal Expo 2022, International Airport Review Editorial Assistant, Lily Mae Pacey, sat down with Sujata Kumar Suri, Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Development at Hamad International Airport, to discuss the future passenger journey and how digital changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic are here to stay.
During November and December 2022, Hamad International will be the main airport welcoming passengers visiting Doha for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and is expected to handle between 34 million and 36 million passengers this year. With this is mind, and particularly with the airport industry navigating its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamad International Airport is refocusing on a premium passenger experience whilst integrating necessary digital enhancements and trends.
Digitalising the passenger experience
Suri outlined how the digital passenger journey begins with the use of biometrics at check-in and the immigration process and is now being extended to boarding and gate control.
“We’ve introduced digital touch points across all important process points, and we are testing technologies to have a single point of control, as the idea is to provide a specific experience that every passenger segment wants.”
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) passenger numbers to, from and within the Middle East are expected to reach 81 per cent of 2019 levels in 2022, 98 per cent in 2024 and 105 per cent in 2025. Following on from this, Suri expressed how it is ‘clearly’ the younger or Millennial passenger segment that is more willing to fly with the adoption of digitalisation and mobile devices throughout the airport journey, and this has been evident at Hamad International.
Recently, the airport has introduced an innovative ‘Digital Twin’ initiative as part of its smart airport programme, this provides a real-time, holistic view of the airport through intuitive combined 3D modelling techniques, data-analytics, and artificial intelligence. Through the adoption of this breakthrough technology, Hamad International will be able to improve its operations and benefit the passenger experience, benefit airline partners, as well as airport stakeholders.
The remaining human factor
Despite the integration of digital technology to provide a safer and more efficient passenger airport journey, the human factor of airport staff should never be completely erased. For the individuals with complex situations, Suri said that “the ultimate comfort factor for anybody is that they can rely on a human and the moment somebody finds themselves in a spot of trouble, we all look for the human to come to our aid. So, for us, we invest in both types of airport experience.”
Furthermore, the passenger experience is also impacted by how accessible the airport is, at all stages, for all individuals. As a long-haul connectivity hub, the airport sees many passengers having to transfer to reach their destination. “We have ended up becoming a place where passengers spend a lot of time before boarding their next flight. So, we make it a point to make our facilities comfortable and accessible. We provide a lot of space, entertainment, and special requirements for passengers who need it,” outlined Suri.
And these measures and attitude did not halt when the pandemic hit.
With Qatar Airways continuing flights throughout the entirety of COVID-19, Hamad International had to remain open for all passengers, as well as cargo movements. As a result, Suri suggested that the airport has evolved alongside the pandemic, “because there hasn’t been a single stage of the COVID-19 restrictions that we haven’t been through.”
There has been plenty of lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for airports globally, including Hamad International Airport. As a result, the airport will continue to disinfect all luggage and will maintain very exact hygiene and sanitisation standards, despite the relaxation of rules and regulations.
We’ve introduced digital touch points across all important process points, and we are testing technologies to have a single point of control, as the idea is to provide a specific experience that every passenger segment wants”
Suri added that the pandemic highlighted the importance of communication and alliance with stakeholders and organisations alike: “The entire industry is going to take it up a notch in terms of engagement. This is not a lesson that we plan to get rid of, as collaboration was something developed among our stakeholders, who are often working on different and sometimes competing objectives. Those relationships that we’ve created, are clearly not going to go away.”
Rising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, airports are facing the beginnings of a new normal. But who is to say that this ‘new normal’ is here to stay? All it takes is another pandemic, epidemic, or disaster to re-shift the entire aviation environment. Therefore, Suri highlighted the importance of learning how to plan, and to plan better:
“During the COVID-19 crisis, staff and colleagues were working at various stages, either working from home and different locations, so we had to increase the level of collaboration. We put in place an aggressive expansion plan for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and began the challenge of pre-empting what the customer of the future wants.”
It is an exciting time ahead for Hamad International Airport and the citizens of Doha.
The FIFA World Cup 2022 is set to near double the country’s population, and is a perfect example for the airport to utilise its planning skills, digital transformations, and passenger care to prepare for any contingencies that may happen. That is the goal.
Sujata Kumar Suri is responsible for providing the strategic management of HIA’s capital investment programme. She also leads the commercial and financial management strategy with the objective of ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of the business. Suri joined the aviation industry in 2008 from banking; her extensive experience in business planning and financial management has helped to bring a fresh perspective to strategy and development at airports. With 11 years of experience in Middle Eastern airports, she has had the privilege of being part of the evolution of the airport industry in the region, previously holding the position of Vice President – Service Development at Dubai Airports. She currently serves as the Vice Chairwoman of ACI’s World Economics Committee and is a regular speaker at major airport industry events.