Interviews/Opinions

In Conversation With Eric Odone, Vice President Sales Europe, Qatar Airways

Eric Odone, is the Vice President Sales Europe, Qatar Airways. With extensive experience in the international aviation sector, Eric is a dynamic and creative leader and places great value on customer experience and team development. In this interview, he tells us more about Qatar’s flagship product, the Qsuite, along with other news and insights from the award-winning airline.

Please tell us more about your flagship product, the Qsuite, and your industry-leading business-class service. What can passengers expect? 

Qatar Airways’ award-winning Qsuite, simply put, offers spacious and elegantly designed private suites with exceptional service and gourmet, restaurant-quality dining. The Qsuite ensures passengers arrive at their destination feeling relaxed and ready to embrace the holiday spirit. It wins many global awards time and time again, including from Skytrax, Business Traveller and the World Traveller Awards. 

The Qsuite is about more than just the extremely comfortable and spacious lie-flat seat (although it is also a key selling point); Ambient lighting helps to create a calming atmosphere to adjust to different time zones; There’s extra space and privacy, ideal for work, relaxation, or upscale dining; A gourmet dining menu with only fresh ingredients and the ability to dine on demand makes you feel like you’re in a top restaurant; and luxury amenity kits from Diptyque and The White Company give you a five-star hotel feel. Onboard Wi-Fi is available on selected aircraft to stay connected and there are up to 6,000 options on our inflight entertainment system, Oryx One, for endless entertainment. 

Read our review of Qsuite here

On a personal note, my favourite little touches on Qatar Airways’ Business Class would have to be the delicious lime and mint signature welcome drink and dining by candlelight – battery operated, of course. 

Can you tell us more about your Business and First Class services at Hamad International Airport and what people can expect? 

The Al Mourjan Business Lounge makes transiting through Hamad International Airport an unparalleled customer travel experience, and has been thoughtfully designed in a resort-like setting, with an incredible water feature and greenery, making it easy to forget you’re in an airport. Spanning a vast area over two floors, premium passengers have access to everything they need to make their airport experience feel almost like a five-star hotel stay, including the World’s Best Business Class Lounge Dining (Skytrax, 2023) with international delicacies and an à la carte restaurant, conference rooms and private workstations, single and double “quiet rooms” with recliner chairs and private family areas with entertainment rooms, a children’s nursery and a dedicated games room.

Last year, ‘The Garden’ Lounge was also opened, designed to immerse passengers in a tranquil environment filled with natural light, exotic plants and elegant furnishings. The Lounge, whilst incredibly aesthetic, also fulfils the needs of business, leisure and family travellers with numerous dining options, relaxation rooms, a fitness studio, pedicure & manicure stations, spa facilities, dedicated private spaces, recreational areas and a nursery.

What else is in the pipeline for your business-class products and services across the network and fleet? 

Our product development teams are some of the most innovative in the industry, and they are constantly looking at ways to further perfect the experience for our customers. Qatar Airways already has the World’s Best Business Class, with everything you’d expect on other airlines’ First Class, and we work with some of the most luxurious brands, such as Diptyque and The White Company, which continue to set us apart.

Qatar Airways’ newest Business Class product is on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner which, whilst not Qsuite, it offers similar features, including sliding privacy doors, wireless device charging and a comfortable and spacious lie-flat bed. This innovative aircraft operates on key routes to Europe and Asia, offering 30 Business Class Suites and 281 Economy Class seats. The Business Class Suite provides a personal, private space with direct aisle access, transforming into a comfortable 79-inch fully flat bed. Passengers also enjoy diverse international cuisine, the highest quality amenities, and exceptional onboard service. 

The airport is currently expanding further can you tell us more about this project

Hamad International Airport (DOH) is Qatar Airways’ hub located in Doha. Last year in November 2022, the airport unveiled Phase A of its expansion plan which consisted of nine projects, including new lounges, a second airport hotel, a remote transfer baggage facility, an indoor tropical garden – The Orchard and many more. With the expansion, the airport’s terminal was extended by 125,000 square meters, resulting in Hamad International Airport operating one expansive terminal of 740,000 square meters. As a transfer hub, the airport now consists of three transfer halls, with Transfer-C being introduced in the new expanded area and has a capacity of 400 passengers per hour, per lane. Hamad International Airport invests in the latest innovative technology to reduce processing time and enhance security within the facility.

Phase B of the expansion project started in January 2023 which includes the extension on Concourse D and E and a second cargo terminal. After the completion of the second phase the airport capacity will increase to 70 million passengers per year.

You recently opened The Orchard, can you tell us more about this part of the airport?

The Orchard is at the epicentre of the first phase of the expansion plan, which is a 6,000 sqm indoor tropical garden and includes a 575 sqm water feature. With trees and shrubs sourced from sustainable tropical forests around the world, wrapped around with world-class dining and retail experiences, The Orchard embodies a space to relax, rejuvenate and recharge.

Offering over 65 retail and dining options, The Orchard is home to a few industry firsts and exclusives, including the first Ralph’s Coffee Shop in an airport, the only Thom Browne store in an airport, the largest Ray Ban store in an airport and a flagship Louis Vuitton Boutique. This year, the Al Mourjan Business Lounge – the Garden unveiled the world’s first-ever Louis Vuitton Lounge offering a luxurious culinary experience.

Read our review of the Louis Vuitton Lounge here

Passengers can easily connect from ORCHARD at the North Plaza to the famous yellow teddy bear “LampBear”, at the South Plaza, using the passenger train or utilizing the multiple wayfinding solutions introduced at Hamad International Airport.

Who is a typical Qatar passenger

As Qatar Airways is such a diverse business, set up to serve the needs of people from all over the world, there is not one typical passenger. Our customers choose to travel with Qatar Airways for many different reasons, whether for work or leisure, on their own or with their partner, to watch global sporting events or reunite with family members, or to lie on a beach or visit a Wonder of the World. Everything is possible thanks to our network of more than 170 destinations, our superb airport hub in Doha, our friendly and accommodating staff and our award-winning product. What all of our customers do generally have in common is that they look for superior quality, reliability and service excellence, which is why most our passengers choose to fly with Qatar Airways. 

As a business Qatar continues to expand its network, engaging in thrilling sports and cultural partnerships – please tell us more about this activity. 

Qatar Airways is committed to uniting people all over the world through travel and sport and our sports sponsorships portfolio continues to expand to support this vision. This year we became the Global Partner of Formula 1, which will see us connect fans from every corner of the globe to watch their favourite F1 races until at least 2027. 

Qatar Airways already has strong partnerships across a variety of sports, most notably in football with Paris St Germain, Inter Milan and FIFA.

And if / how do these partnerships impact the customer experience?

These partnerships greatly enhance the customer experience by offering exclusive access to sporting events. Whether it’s through the Qatar Airways Holidays Ultimate F1 Fan travel packages, or via special offers accessible to members of our loyalty programme, Privilege Club, Qatar Airways passengers can receive unique opportunities to engage with exciting sports beyond just their flights. 

As a multi-award-winning airline, how does Qatar Airways continue to consistently deliver such high standards of excellence across its services?

Qatar Airways consistently upholds its high standards of excellence through a combination of relentless commitment, first-rate service delivery, focus on the customer, continuous innovation and investment in technology. For example, recently our cabin crew were equipped with new digital tools developed in-house, which allow them to provide an even better, more personalised experience to our passengers. We are also continuously listening to our customers through surveys and feedback, to ensure we can maintain our high standards across all aspects of air travel.

Have you noticed any trends in the most popular destinations for business-class travellers in recent years? Why do you think this is the case?

Post-COVID, the popularity of Business Class has surged, and Qatar Airways’ premium cabins now exceed pre-pandemic demand. Among preferred destinations for Europeans travelling in Business Class are Doha, Maldives, Bangkok, Australia, Singapore, Auckland, Hong Kong and Bali. 

This shift likely mirrors a desire for a more premium travel experience following pent-up demand during COVID, which has given passengers a taste of luxury, causing them to change their travel habits for the longer term. Qatar Airways is a trusted brand in the premium airline space, so is well-positioned to serve these customers who now have a heightened appreciation for quality, comfort and privacy. COVID got people used to social distancing and many customers now rather enjoy having more personal space, particularly on a long-haul flight. 

Qatar Airways’ award-winning Qsuite is perfect for enjoying your own space, with completely private suites and a ‘do not disturb’ function. It’s also perfect for travelling with companions, turning into a double bed or family suite in a matter of minutes, while still maintaining privacy for your group.

Since the pandemic, travellers are increasingly looking for better value. Qatar Airways is more than a mode of transportation, we are almost considered a ‘lifestyle brand’, which allows us to focus on creating highly valuable moments for our customers. We are committed to providing premium customers with a holistic experience, from meet and greets at the airport, to cabin crew welcoming you by name onboard, to wellness offerings on our inflight entertainment system.

And do you think they will continue in popularity or are there other destinations showing signs of increased demand?

I think these destinations will always be popular with Europeans as they serve both leisure and business travel. However, we could also see new growth in other destinations that maybe haven’t received the same attention for leisure travel as others, such as Japan, China, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Luxury is highly subjective, what does it mean to you?

Luxury for Qatar Airways means creating an environment where every aspect, from seamless check-in processes to exceptional in-flight services to a totally smooth airport experience, reflects exclusivity and sophistication. It’s about providing travellers with a sense of indulgence and well-being, catering to their individual needs with finesse, and ensuring every moment with us is memorable and enriching. The Qatar Airways experience should also leave passengers feeling refreshed and rejuvenated when they arrive at their destination or back home.

And similarly, what do you think it means to your passengers?

Luxury to our passengers means having their needs anticipated and met seamlessly, whether it’s through exclusive amenities, spacious accommodations, gourmet dining, or attentive service that caters to their preferences. Qatar Airways’ ability to adapt and match differing customer needs means each passenger feels perfectly catered to and should leave their travel experience with a sense of delight, relaxation and yearning for more.

Finally, what is your life motto? 

The motto I live by is to never settle for average. At Qatar Airways, we don’t aim to deliver transportation; we deliver an exclusive experience unlike any other, whilst continuing to push the boundaries of the aviation space and striving to deliver excellence at every step of the customer journey.