The Big Interview - Dubai Duty Free

11 Sep 2014

Colm McLoughlin, MD of Dubai Duty Free, speaks to sportindustry.biz following another successful Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot Racecourse. 

How did Dubai Duty Free find itself here today? 

30 years ago, the government in Dubai negotiated a contract with the government in Ireland to do the duty free for Dubai Airport. I was part of a ten man team that went over there initially, and now it’s the biggest single duty free operation in the world. We had 100 staff when we started, and we still have 44 of those original employees working today, except now there’s 6,000 people! Our business has also grown from a $20 million turnover in the first year to $1.8 billion this year.

We’ve been involved in the Shergar Cup since it was born 13 years ago and will continue to back it as part of our global promotional strategy. It’s the second highest crowd attendance at Ascot, so it clearly resonates with the public too. 

And what attracted the brand to the sport? 

Well we had been involved in horse racing before in a few ways. The Dubai World Cup – we sponsored one of the races there since it began – and we got involved in horse racing at Newbury about 18 years ago, we go there for two days in April and two days in October. We’re also the main sponsor of the Irish Derby, which is now known as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

When the Shergar Cup came up for grabs we saw it as something a bit different. We started by sponsoring the ‘World Team’ but later decided to take on the whole sponsorship. There’s something about the team element that really interested us. 

You were quite the sportsman throughout your career – do you think that passion and competitive edge has transferred into business?

I think one of the most important things in my line of work is teamwork. We have an internal promotion policy in our company so all of our senior figures have worked their way up through the company. As I said earlier, we still have 44 of our original staff from 30 years ago, and recognising people for their work is very important. 

I’d never claim to be an especially talented sportsman, but if you’re keen on sport and enjoy working as part of a team it definitely helps to boost your enthusiasm. Work needs to be fun. 

The Dubai Duty Free Foundation is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, how important is the Corporate Social Responsibility side of things to the organisation?

Yes we’re coming onto our ten-year celebrations soon, we started it up as a separate section within our group and they manage our corporate responsibility, the environment and health and safety. I got approval from our chairman to transfer a certain amount of money from the organisation into the foundation and we have supported 67 different charities since then. We rebuilt two clinics in the Philippines which concentrate on cleft palate operations – in the last two years we have supported 3,800 procedures through the Smile Train - and we have several children in full-time education in places like Vietnam and Mongolia. 

Through the Foundation, amongst other things, we also pay the salary of two full-time teachers in the Dubai Autism Group and we’ve built schools around the world – it’s very important to us. In the last couple of years we’ve given away about $7 million.

There’s been a huge amount of growth in the brand over the last decade or so - what’s next?

We’re the single largest duty free operation in the world and we expect to hit the $3 billion mark by 2018 with a team of 8,000 people, so we think we will continue to go on and grow. 

We sell something to about half of our departing passengers, which is very unusual in the grand scheme of things. The usual sale to passengers in very good airports around the world is about 18%, we sell to 49%. For that we must credit our positioning, our marketing and our promotion, which I suppose also answers your first question as to why we are here today!

Sport categories: 
Horse Racing