Corporate Icons of the UAE Colm-McLoughlin for web
Colm McLoughlin

Q: Please share a brief history of your firm and its service portfolio.

Dubai Duty Free opened doors to its first customers on December 20, 1983. When the Dubai Government contracted the Irish airport authority, Aer Rianta, to establish Dubai Duty Free in the summer of 1983, I was part of the ten-man team that came to Dubai the same year at the request of the Dubai Government, to set up Dubai Duty Free. The contract was for six months but following the successful opening, I was asked to remain and head up the operation.

Since then, Dubai Duty Free has grown from strength to strength, from a single Terminal which comprised of 24 shops, now we operates over 40,000 square meters of retail space in Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport (which will re-open in May). Our business grew from sales of US$20 million in 1984 to over US$2 billion in 2019. We have been recognised as the single largest duty free in any airport in the world many times. We have had great support from the Government of Dubai and especially my boss, Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Dubai Duty Free.

In addition to our retail business, Dubai Duty Free also operates a Leisure Division, which includes The Irish Village in Garhoud, Studio One Hotel and Expo 2020 Dubai, The Century Village, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, home to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and The Jumeirah Creekside Hotel.

Q: As a corporate leader, how much in your view has the business in your vertical changed in these last two years and how has your brand evolved to stay in step?

The past two years have been challenging for everyone and the pandemic has definitely pre-empted innovation, which was inevitable due to the increase in online activities. We launched a Home Delivery service in June 2020, which offers UAE resident the chance to shop online from Dubai Duty Free. We have seen the number of travelers use our Click & Collect service double.

Similarly, our suppliers are increasingly keen for us to host their digital boutiques on our website and to host live demonstrations on social media platforms, which are becoming popular. Last year total online sales accounted for 5 per cent of our sales and this is an indicator of how important the digital side of our business is.

Q: Provide a bird’s eye perspective on how you see your sector evolving over the next decade and the part your organization will play in this evolution?

The future direction of travel retail revolves around engagement – all forms of digital engagement with the traveller before they travel or during their journey. We would be able to notify them of specific products and potentially know what they are looking for in travel retail. That engagement will allow for planned purchases although impulse buying will still be important.

Q: As a corporate icon, what advice do you have for those interested in making inroads into your sector, as well as for entrepreneurs in general?

It is an old adage to say look after your customers and I think that is very important. I think people starting out in a career, degree or no degree, cannot expect to start at the top, they have to work their way up and I think the formula is simple, work hard, stay honest and treat people equally.

When I celebrated my 50 years in the Duty Free business in 2019, my team gave me a present, an artwork, on which there is a saying engraved that my father told me many years ago. It simply says: Keep your feet on the ground, act normal, treat people well and you’ll be rewarded tenfold. And I think that is true. l