The Business Year

Colm McLoughlin

UAE, DUBAI - Tourism

USD1.93 billion sales in 2017

Executive Vice Chairman & CEO, Dubai Duty Free (DDF)


Born in Ireland in 1943, Colm McLoughlin began his retailing career in the 1960s, working at Woolworths, before moving back to Ireland to work for Shannon Duty Free. In 1983 he was invited by the government of Dubai to set up Dubai Duty Free. Following the successful opening of Dubai Duty Free in 1983, he was asked to remain as General Manager. He later became the Managing Director of Dubai Duty Free. In July 2011, he was named Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free and its subsidiary businesses, which include The Irish Village, The Century Village and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, home to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

“2017 was the highest-selling year in our history, with sales amounting to USD1.93 billion.“

What have been the main accomplishments and milestones for DDF in the past year?

2017 was the highest-selling year in our history, with sales amounting to USD1.93 billion. We sold 73 million pieces of merchandise, with 27 million transactions on our registers. Our penetration rate is the highest in the world and our sales per capita is near the top of global rankings as well. In 2016 we opened Concourse D, which handles all the airlines that go through Dubai International Airport other than Emirates Airlines. Concourse D accounts for about 20% of our business and it is an attractive area, enticing passengers to come there. We are budgeting higher than 2017 for 2018; our first quarter sales reached over USD523 million representing an 11% increase over the same period last year. Concourse C is being refurbished at the moment and we will open new outlets there, of which half are already completed and the remainder will be done throughout 2018. At Al Maktoum International Airport, we have increased our retail space from 2,500sqm to 4,500sqm. Some new airlines, including Azur Air from Russia, fly there, and we are optimistic about the coming year.

How do you assess the importance of your marketing campaigns and sports sponsorships?

Our campaigns are unique and get us exposure in different ways. We do not just organize tennis just for tennis fans but as a promotion for DDF, and we assess the value of it. Our tennis tournaments in 2017 were valued at USD920 million in media coverage to Dubai. We spend 2.5% of our top line on advertising, marketing, and promoting DDF, which is considerably more than what any other duty free spends, and it pays dividends. Several years ago Dubai Airport won an award and the customers who voted for Dubai were surveyed on why they voted for Dubai Airport. 90% responded that this was because of DDF. It is important to market our services and sponsor events locally. For every event that is held in Dubai, people fly in and fly out and they pass by DDF, so we are a big supporter of many events in Dubai. In addition to tennis tournaments, we have been a partner and sponsor of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic Golf since it started 26 years ago; we support the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby in Ireland and have been sponsoring horse racing in Newbury in England for the past 22 years. We also sponsor the DDF Shergar Cup in Ascot every year; this is all about tapping into different markets. Three years ago we took on the title sponsorship of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Golf. This event is huge in Ireland and the value that the European Tour gave us last year was USD161 million in media coverage.

How do you see the impact of e-commerce on the retail sector, and what opportunities and challenges does it entail for DDF?

In my opinion e-commerce is necessary but does not significantly affect travel. It is a special treat for many passengers to go through a retail area at the airport and buy at great value. Still, we have to be aware of e-commerce, and we set up a click-and-collect operation in DDF two years ago. In 2017 our sales were USD19 million, and it is uncertain if these sales are on top of regular sales or merely a replacement. It is a service that we provide that in our view will always be small in comparison to our total business. The main feature will remain people shopping personally at the airport buying gifts at great value.

What is the importance of innovative retail concepts to delight customers?

It is important to entertain people and not just try to sell them things. We have in-house training programs for our staff, and the policy is to make sure the customer is the most important person during interactions. We listen to what our customers tell us and how they want to see items promoted. We work closely with our suppliers to create exclusive products and organize launches that reflect the duty free at Dubai. The ambience at the airport is important as well. There are children’s play areas laid out throughout the airport and we have our own in-house choir called The Nightingales that have won the Corporate Choir Competition in Dubai for the last three years. At certain times of the year we have our choir performing for passengers to create a pleasant atmosphere.

Do you see room for partnerships with airlines in on-board duty-free shopping?

This is an interesting opportunity, and we are discussing the possibility of airline simply ordering online and collecting when travellers arrive at DDF. We have been cooperating for a long time in negotiations with suppliers, and there is great potential in expanding cooperation with airlines.



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