December 3 2022  |  Associations

MEADFA praises strong turnout in Bahrain with 430+ delegates

By Jane Hobson, in Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain

More than 430 delegates attended this year's MEADFA Conference in the Kingdom of Bahrain

The Middle East & Africa Duty Free Association (MEADFA) says today it welcomed a “strong number of attendees” at this year's MEADFA Conference that ran from November 27 to 29 in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Hosted by Bahrain Duty Free, the event drew 441 delegates from across the duty free and travel retail industry. An “impressive” turnout, the Association said.

Night one: Opening cocktail
The event kicked off with the opening cocktail on Sunday evening, featuring food, drinks and music. It was sponsored by Dufry, with beverages by Gulf Beverages FZE and African+Eastern.

Among notable attendees were those from Bahrain Duty Free, including Bassam Al Wardi, Chief Executive Officer & Board Director, and Jordanian Duty Free Shops’ CEO Haitham al Majali.

Bassam Al Wardi, Chief Executive Officer & Board Director, Bahrain Duty Free (left) and Aijaz Khan, Publisher, Global Travel Retail Magazine

Haitham Al Majali, CEO, Jordanian Duty Free Shops (left) and Tariq J. Taha, Sales & Marketing Senior Manager, Jordanian Duty Free Shops

Day two: Conference sessions begin
MEADFA Conference attendees received a warm welcome from Sherif Toulan, President of MEADFA, on Monday morning.

"Now is the time to look forward not back. MEADFA is determined to play a central role in the resurgence of duty free and travel retail in the Middle East and Africa region. That role includes defending the interests of our members in the face of regulatory threats and other challenges. As founding members of the Duty Free World Council, we are also keen to support global efforts to defend our industry. As we gather here, it’s good to see passenger numbers that give us grounds for optimism, both in our region, and beyond,” said Toulan during his opening address.

Sherif Toulan, MEADFA President

Moderators John Rimmer, Managing Director at TFWA, and Dermot Davitt, President of the Moodie Davitt Report, then opened the Conference with a preview of what to expect, highlighting sessions where delegates will hear from Bahrain’s leading industry experts and prominent figures from the region’s duty free and travel retail sector.

Bahrain Airport Company CEO Mohamed Yousif Al Binfalah

Next, participants heard a keynote address from Bahrain Airport Company CEO Mohamed Yousif Albinfalah. He discussed the expansion of Bahrain International Airport and how this contributes to confirming Bahrain’s status as a key luxury travel location in the region.

The morning continued with the Middle East & Africa Leaders Panel, with speakers including Rob Marriott, CEO of Aer Rianta International-Middle East; Ramesh Cidambi, COO of Dubai Duty Free (DDF); and Isabel Zarza, COO North & Central Europe, Russia and Africa at Dufry Group.


The Middle East & Africa Leaders Panel

The panel discussed the current state of the market with an in-depth look at DDF from Cidambi. The discussion held a tone of cautious optimism as the panel discussed the industry’s pursuit to keep up pace as demand increases post-COVID.

During the networking coffee break, attendees were invited to meet with colleagues and visit the exhibit stands that were neatly arranged in the sunny foyer.

Attendees mingled at the booths during the network coffee breaks

In the post-coffee break session entitled West Africa: Unlocking the potential, delegates heard from Kojo Bentum-Williams, Founder and Publisher at VoyagesAfriq Travel Media and Lead Communications at UNWTO Africa, and Gordon Clark, Vice President Business Development at ForwardKeys, about the continent’s promising tourism opportunities.

Kojo Bentum-Williams, Founder and Publisher at VoyagesAfriq Travel Media and Lead Communications at UNWTO Africa tuned in virtually for the West Africa: Unlocking the potential session

Panelists at the Smart futures session

Next in the Smart futures session, speakers Waleed Khalaf, CEO of Smart Way Consultancy, and François Bourienne, Chief Commercial Officer at Abu Dhabi Airports, looked at how innovations and new technologies are turning science fiction into reality. From smart cities with smart airports at the center, the session looked at ways in which technology is changing life and travel – for the better.

In the final session for day one Defending our industry, panelists Rob Marriott, Chair of the MEADFA Advocacy Working Group; Roger Jackson and Mazen Kaddoura, MEADFA Board Members; and Sarah Branquinho, President of the Duty Free World Council, provided in-depth insights into regulatory challenges in the post-pandemic environment.

Conference attendees then headed to the networking lunch, sponsored by Mazaya. The food, drinks and shisha were aplenty and set an ideal scene for networking and catching up with friends and colleagues.

The final session for day one Defending our industry

Mazaya hosted the networking lunch

Night two: Gala dinner

The first-ever MEADFA Awards were hosted in the Kingdom of Bahrain on November 28

The MEADFA Conference Gala dinner was a highlight of this year’s event. Gracious host Bahrain Duty Free invited delegates to The Art Hotel & Resort terrace for food, drinks, dancing and the inaugural MEADFA Awards ceremony. Drinks were sponsored by Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail.

Attendees had the opportunity to take photos with falcons, receive henna, drink tea and network.

Aer Rianta International Middle East’s Richard Gray took kicked off the first-ever MEADFA Awards ceremony as announcer.

The winners include:

  • Best Retailer Award: Bahrain Duty Free
  • Best in Marketing Strategy: Nestle International Travel Retail
  • Sustainability & CSR Award (two prizes according to the size of the company): Dubai Duty Free and Bitmore Ltd.
  • Customers & Suppliers Award (two prizes according to the size of the company): Muscat Duty Free and Merlin, Soft Magic Systems Computers LLC

The industry also took a moment to honor Colm McLoughlin, CEO and Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free (DDF), with the Lifetime Achievement Award. McLoughlin, who was unfortunately unable to attend the event in Bahrain, received a standing ovation as Ramesh Cidambi, DDF COO, accepted the award on his behalf.

Colm McLoughlin, CEO at Dubai Duty Free, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the MEADFA Awards

Day two: Conference sessions wrap up
Attendees gathered again on November 29 for the final day of conference sessions, with topics tackling sustainability, supply chain issues, the cruise market, East Africa tourism and meta-retail.

Sustainability in action panelists

In Sustainability in action, Munif Mohammed, Lagardère Travel Retail CEO Saudi Arabia; Marcus Hudson, Mars International Travel Retail Global Sales Director; and Shivani Sathasivam, Founder of New Normal Consultancy, presented perspectives on sustainability in the TR channel. Hudson shared a video about Mars’ initiatives to bring sustainability to its cocoa farming processes and how empowering women plays a role.

Sharon Beecham, Senior Vice President Purchasing at Dubai Duty Free and Alasdair Dickinson, Director, Asia and MEA Travel Retail at Beam Suntory, shared candidly about the state of recovery in relation to overcoming supply chain challenges. Beecham says part of Dubai Duty Free’s tactic is mastering the art of illusion when it comes to displays. She also notes that Rolex, Dom Perignon, single malts and Apple have been doing particularly well as of late.

Sharon Beecham, Senior Vice President Purchasing at Dubai Duty Free

After a mid-morning coffee break (coffee breaks were sponsored by Nestlé and Loacker), Conference attendees floated to a different topic – the cruise market in the Middle East & Africa.

Led by James Prescott, CEO of Harding+, the presentation discussed the similarities and differences between passenger data for cruises and airlines in this mostly untapped market.


Kevin Alderweireldt, Metaverse specialist and Co-Founder of creative tech company, Bureau Béatrice

In the second-to-last discussion, entitled Rebuilding tourism in East Africa, Surafel Saketa, Country Manager at Ethiopian Airlines; and Baptiste Duguit, Vice President Business Development at Lagardère Travel Retail, dove into what were thriving markets pre-COVID: Ethiopia and Kenya.

The MEADFA Conference went out with a bang as Kevin Alderweireldt, Metaverse specialist and Co-Founder of creative tech company, Bureau Béatrice, took to the stage. The captivating presentation, with bright warm colors and many video components, discussed how merging the physical and virtual worlds can bring success to the duty free and travel retail channel – if it can find its place in the metaverse.

The MEADFA Conference came to a close after the final networking lunch, sponsored once again by Mazaya.

A note from Global Travel Retail Magazine

Left to right: Aijaz Khan, Publisher, Global Travel Retail Magazine, with Micheline El Ammar Enkiri, MEADFA Operations Manager, and Havovie Pardiwalla, MEADFA Administrative Coordinator at the networking lunch on November 29

Global Travel Retail Magazine would also like to acknowledge Micheline El Ammar Enkiri, MEADFA Operations Manager, and Havovie Pardiwalla, MEADFA Administrative Coordinator, and the entire MEADFA and TFWA teams for the time and effort that went into making MEADFA Bahrain 2022 a success.

Global Travel Retail Magazine was a media partner for the event and thanks all colleagues for sharing time to connect and advertisers for their support.

“We are grateful to be media partners for the event and are appreciative of the support,” says Publisher Aijaz Khan.

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