Jul. 14, 2016

Colm McLoughlin

UAE, Dubai

Colm McLoughlin

Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Duty Free

TBY talks to Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Duty Free, on innovation in the sector, the duty free market, and plans for the future.


Born 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 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. Another title was added on his designation as Chief Executive Officer in June 2016.

How can you secure innovation in the airport retail sector?

We try to improve all of the time; we invest in technology and have introduced an online shopping portal, which we expect to become increasingly important to our business and our customers. Refurbishment is necessary, and we closely examine how we deal with our passengers. If we identify congestion then we change and we have recently agreed with the airport to remove a number of retail structures from the center aisle in what we call Concourse B because of congestion. We keep trying to offer better value to the customers and we continue seeking to be the number one in duty free from the point of view of special offers and ensuring that customers get what they want. We work closely with our suppliers to this end. We also have digital advertisement applications at the airports showcasing Dubai Duty Free's offers.

What is the average return on sale per sqm?

In 2013, our average return on sale per square meter was $80,000, while the average of the rest of duty free was at $34,000 per sqm. Last year we reached $82,000 per sqm, while the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York City was at $66,000. When we opened Concourse D at Dubai International Airport in February 2016, the new 7,000sqm of retail space will lower our average return. We expect to be at $72,000 this year, which is still way above the average.

How do Dubai Duty Free operations contribute to the economy?

Around 70% of our products are acquired locally, helping suppliers, wholesalers, and importers. We have 6,000 employees, to which we provide rented accommodation and we also own 740 apartments that house some of our employees. These employees spend money in Dubai, and not only them but also all of their friends and family members who come to visit every year. We not only give our employees accommodation, but also flight tickets, too. They are all contributing to the development of Dubai. We sponsor a lot of events, like the Tennis Championships, which generates over $800 million worth of TV exposure for Dubai, as well as supporting the DP World Tour Championships, the Emirates Rugby 7s, and many more major events. In addition to that, we own the Dubai Tennis Stadium, the Irish Village, and the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel. We are also planning on developing the Irish Village in a new theme park that will be constructed here in the UAE. The build up to Expo 2020 is exciting and the development of Dubai South will see a lot of activity in the coming years. By 2020 we expect to reach $3 billion and have 9,000 employees. It is expected that Dubai South will generate 260,000 jobs. At Al Maktoum we will open up to 80,000 sqm, which will create around 3,000-4,000 jobs.

To what do you attribute the banking community's confidence in Dubai Duty Free?

Our main banking relationships have endured for a long time and have been built on mutual trust and co-operation. We had never taken on debt before but in 2012 we were tasked with raising $1.75 billion in financing to support the expansion at Dubai International Airport. We had many conversations with existing banks and some that were new. In the end the 26 banks that supported us understood the opportunity surrounding Dubai Duty Free at Dubai International Airport and the phenomenal growth story that was taking place. A year later we raised an additional $750 million and needed just three banks to finance the deal. We have since re-financed both deals with an overall savings of $70 million. The banks like working with us, they understand the success of our business, we honor our agreements with them and have never been late on any commitments due.