The Dubai Duty Free story began in December 1983 and since then it has continued to grow and is now considered one of the largest travel retail operators in the world. Here, RLI sits down with Colm McLoughlin, CEO of Dubai Duty Free to discuss the changes the business has gone through, not only since its inception but throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and how they are set up for the future.
Celebrating its 37th anniversary on 20 December 2020, Dubai Duty Free (DDF) last year recorded annual sales of Dhs2.5bn and today has over 2,600 employees on its books as the operation consistently improves the benchmark for airport retailing.
The business operates some 40,000sq m of retail space at Dubai International and Al Maktoum International airports in the UAE. Because of the ongoing pandemic, Dubai Duty Free currently operates in Dubai International Airport’s Concourse D in Terminal 1, Concourse B and C in Terminal 3 and Terminal 2.
“During these unprecedented times, we have implemented and introduced initiatives to keep the business operational through the pandemic,” explains Colm McLoughlin, CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “With limited means of reaching out to our customers, we proposed an alternate retail channel to appeal to local customers – and the Home Delivery Service within the UAE was launched in June.”
In terms of new openings for DDF, a major one took place last year and this was the opening of a 1,100sq m Arrivals shop in Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport. The total retail space of 1,100sq m was a significant increase over its previous retail area of 660sq m. It also meant that for the first time passengers landing at the airport had the opportunity to purchase from the entire liquor range of DDF, which features over 2,500 products, including 121 Travel Retail exclusives and 41 products that are exclusive to DDF alone.
Meanwhile back in April this year, a 156sq m Gold shop in Concourse B was redeveloped and a 243sq m forecourt Public Shop was launched at Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport.
“Some of our biggest plans for the remainder of 2021 include the launch of three luxury boutiques in Concourse B of Dubai International Airport. The new luxury boutiques include a Louis Vuitton outlet that will occupy 254sq m of space, and the upcoming Cartier and Dior units will both be over 100sq m,” explains McLoughlin.
The company has consistently looked at ways of improving their retail offer to an increasingly diverse passenger mix, such as collaborating more with suppliers and partners, continuing to stay relevant in an e-commerce and mobile world by increasing the level of engagement with customers, partnering with different company’s such as Emirates Airlines and committing to providing new and convenient shopping options for customers such as Home Delivery Services for UAE customers and a Click and Collect service for travelling and arriving customers.
In recent times social media has become the key medium for the business and it is a pivotal part of their ‘always-on’ social strategy which has created a stronger association with customers and travellers.
“As a result of the pandemic, our social media messaging has been focused on nurturing the community as opposed to any hard sell and this has led to a good increase in follower base as well as steady engagement rate,” McLoughlin says.
While the company was already embracing technological advances before the onset of the pandemic, the last 12 months have accelerated this movement and DDF now interacts more with their customers than ever before, be that through new online services or hosting digital boutiques on their website. At the moment they are also looking at hosting their first live sales event on Facebook and Instagram.
In the duty-free retail sector, DDF stands out from the crowd because they are continuously looking to innovate the retail experience for their customers, many of whom are well-travelled and familiar with duty-free stores.
“We continue to work with many suppliers on creating exciting new retail products and concepts that appeal to our customers. Customer service is also vitally important to our business, even though we are a large retailer; we try to keep the personal touch in all we do. Our job is to offer a great range of quality products at value-for-money prices, provide great customer service and satisfaction and ensure a shopper-friendly environment,” explains McLoughlin.
The CEO feels there are several reasons behind the success to date of the company and the first of these is the support that they have received from the Government of Dubai, and in particular from their Chairman, H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum who has allowed them the freedom and encouragement to grow the business. Alongside this McLoughlin feels that they have the greatest team of staff in the world who are well trained and motivated which reflects positively on the organisation.
Finally, part of their original brief back in 1983 was to promote the city of Dubai and to a large extent this is done through their sports sponsorship, and this has continued despite the challenges the pandemic presented as they once again invested in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is owned by DDF.
“Our industry has faced major challenges over the years and Covid-19 is obviously the biggest one we have faced. As such, we all have to be realistic and acknowledge that it is going to take time for things to come back to where they used to be, but we are determined to make DDF a ‘re-success’. I’m really confident that given the right amount of time we will make a full recovery,” McLoughlin concludes.