A long-term concession contract win at Zanzibar Airport in Africa could be the change needed to modernize the retail business there and make the most of the island’s biggest claim to fame: as the birthplace of Freddy Mercury the legendary lead singer of British rock group Queen.
Dubai-based Maritime and Mercantile International (MMI) and Emirates Leisure Retail (ELR) have just been appointed as the master concessionaire for all food and beverage, duty-free and commercial outlets in Abeid Amani Karume International Airport’s new $130 million terminal three. As part of a “long-term, multi-year contract” MMI/ELR plan to develop what they claims will be the world’s first integrated F&B and retail experience in travel-retail—and a destination in its own right. Terminal three is operated by dnata, the air and travel services provider that is part of Emirates Group which also owns ELR.
Speaking to Forbes.com: a company spokesperson said: “The project will feature carefully curated retail spaces reflecting a sense of place. Our ambition is a digitally integrated consumer experience. We want Zanzibar Airport to become truly memorable… where passengers will want to arrive early so they have time to be part of it.”
Capturing Zanzibar’s history
The drive for ‘sense of place’ includes Queen’s iconic lead singer. “Freddie Mercury is a significant part of Zanzibar’s history and we are exploring possibilities of how we could incorporate and bring it to life as part of the airport experience,” the spokesperson told us.
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Zanzibar, an autonomous region of Tanzania in East Africa, has become a destination for the singer’s fans, but his association with the island could see some renewed publicity. In November 2019, the first-ever museum dedicated to Mercury—located in Shangani, in Zanzibar’s famous Stone Town—was officially inaugurated, in partnership with Queen Productions Ltd in the U.K.
The timing was unlucky due to the start of the pandemic in early 2020, but if the current Omicron wave subsides, as it appears to be doing in South Africa where it was first noticed, a more concerted tourism effort could see extra focus on the Freddie Mercury Museum, and the airport will also look to enhance that image, as well as gain from it. Museum founders Andrea Boero and Javed Jafferji still want to establish their landmark project globally by encouraging fans from around the world to make pilgrimages to Zanzibar.
This year was Queen’s 50th anniversary and a pop-up store—Queen The Greatest—opened in London’s popular Carnaby Street in September—to leverage the occasion. The shop will trade until January 2022. There is no doubt that Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991, and Queen have commercial longevity: the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody starring Rami Malek, for which he won best actor at the 91st Academy Award, has grossed over $900 million worldwide, with more that 75% coming from the international box office.
Concessionaires to be confirmed by mid-2022
Mercury’s global appeal has clear benefits for MMI/ELR if they can take advantage of it. As the first airport master concession contract in Africa for the two businesses, they want to make their mark. Andrew Day, group CEO of MMI/ELR said in a statement: “This represents a bold and exciting next step for both ELR and MMI. We currently have over 100 outlets in over 20 domestic and international airports, across the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Asia. Our goal is to create constantly evolving retail environments that drive incremental value for airport operators, brands and travelers.”
To deliver on their promise, MMI/ELR are working with design house, Eight Inc, to create a blueprint concept. The remit is to bring together local Zanzibar character and design with the latest technologies, including seamless payment solutions. Tim Kobe, CEO and co-founder of Eight Inc, said: “At Zanzibar Airport we have a great opportunity to challenge the category norms and we’re gearing up to make the next big leap forward.”
Store concessionaires for the terminal-wide project will be confirmed and announced by early- to mid-2022. “We have received interest from a number of international brands and are also working on developing our own concepts,” the spokesperson said.
Terminal three, which handles international flights, is expected to serve over 1.5 million passengers annually. Its growth will be supported by the government of Zanzibar which has identified Abeid Amani Karume Airport as a key investment and redevelopment pillar to support the island’s travel and tourism economy.
Though Zanzibar’s health minister has just tested positive for Covid-19, and the country has tightened international travel restrictions, MMI/ELR are looking further ahead to better times when international passenger movements should be rising again.
MMI first entered the African market 12 years ago with a joint venture in Zanzibar and today it has other joint venture operations in Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia plus supply agreements across South and East Africa.