Kuwait • a shopping mall with airport attached
For many frequent flyers Kuwait International doesn’t rank as highly as other leading Middle Eastern airports such as Dubai and Bahrain. Long queues, unhelpful staff, inadequate facilities, and a poor choice of restaurants are just some of the complaints regularly levelled at it by some disgruntled travellers. Yet it has to be said the shopping offer at the airport is better than average.
This happy state of affairs is largely because Kuwait International is unique in the region for having an enormous 32,000 square-metre shopping mall attached to it, which is linked directly to the arrivals and departures halls. Flooded with natural light and boasting a stunning, scalloped roof shaped like a jet’s vapour trail, the $60 million Airport Commercial Center features over 180 shops, restaurants, banks, hotels and bureaux de change spread out over two floors.
Some of the retail line up will look familiar to UK shoppers. It includes a Debenhams department store; a branded Casio watches outlet, a Harley-Davidson shop; a Claire’s Accessories store, and The Body Shop. As for locally run outlets, head to Al-Fouz for local nibbles, Suisse Pharmacy for medicine, and MTC for mobile phones and accessories. For a full run down of what’s on offer at the mall and a handy map to find your way around, log on to: www.q8airport.com
Fast-food lovers won’t be disappointed by the choice of eating options, but don’t expect anything too sophisticated. KFC and US burger chain Fuddrucker’s both have franchises in this vast air-conditioned mall and both are popular with locals, who account for over a third of the Commercial Center’s customers. You will also find a pizzeria (Perky’s Pizza) and several cafés such as Starbuck’s, Jamaica Blue and Numi.
Airside the four duty-free stores at the airport have been run by a joint venture between Spanish company Aldeasa, which has airports shops all over the world, and a local newsagent, That Es-Salasil, since 2006. The design, store layout and selection of brands sold of these outlets are everything you’d expect to find in a modern airport although local regulations forbid the sale of alcohol.
It’s also worth remembering that prices aren’t necessarily any cheaper than you will find at the downtown malls. Kuwait is after all effectively a tax-free country.
Back in the departures lounge, “The Shop” offers typical duty-free products such as cigarettes, confectionery and souvenirs, while the “Beauty Shop” sells a wide selection of international and regional fragrances and cosmetics. The ‘Les Boutiques’ outlet features branded corners from the upmarket likes of Cartier, Chopard, Mont Blanc, among others. Completing the line up, there is also an electronics shop and a gold jewellery store.
Having survived the first Gulf War and the more recent 2003, US-led invasion of neighbouring Iraq, oil-rich Kuwait is keen to put its troubled past behind it and develop its tourist potential. The government has an audacious $3.5 billion plan to transform the country’s fortunes, which includes the construction of new roads, top-class hotels and most notably, a 43 square kilometre, artificially constructed island dedicated exclusively to tourists.
As with other airports in the Middle East region, plans are afoot to expand Kuwait international, which handled only 7.25m passengers in 2008, to keep pace with the rest of the country’s rapid development. A new terminal, costing an estimated $2.72bn, is on the drawing board, which will boost the airport’s total passenger capacity to 20m a year.
And yes, you guessed it, a giant new shopping mall is also on the cards, which will feature stores from international retailers such as US fashion brand GAP, French beauty store chain Sephora, and French supermarket chain Carrefour.
The shopping at Kuwait international, already good, is set to get a whole lot better.
To check your duty free allowances for travel to Kuwait see our guide; Kuwait Duty Free Allowances