Resilience & innovation making DDF a success

DDF Management and staff during its 37th anniversary in December last year
DDF Management and staff during its 37th anniversary in December last year

Dubai Duty Free (DDF) witnessed a steady growth during the pandemic last year, thanks to its long-term vision to boost online delivery services. Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Colm McLoughlin shares highlights as DDF looks ahead to achieving more milestones. Excerpts from an interview:

Published: Wed 17 Mar 2021, 8:20 AM

Last updated: Wed 17 Mar 2021, 10:55 AM

DDF's home delivery services and the year ahead

We are pleased with the response to the launch of our home delivery service, which for the first time provides the UAE residents the chance to purchase a range of products online for delivery in the UAE and, while it will not be our core business, it has been very beneficial as a new revenue source, so that has been a very good development for us.

In 2020, the Dubai Duty Free home delivery service sales reached $9.35 million with 163,407 units of merchandise sold. To date, our home delivery sales $11.3 million or 183,000 products sold since we launched it in June 2020. Likewise, our Click & Collect service, which offers travelers the chance to order goods in advance of their flight, is also working well.

With the total online sales now accounting for seven per cent of our sales, this is an indicator of how important the digital side of our business is and we need to invest in presenting a wider range of products online. 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.

Ready for Expo 2020 Dubai

We are working closely with Expo 2020 on merchandising opportunities as well as a couple of other areas. We will also have a purpose-built Irish Village outlet and restaurant in Jubilee Park. It is very close to the Ireland Pavilion at the Mobility Pavilion of the Expo 2020 site.

Main attractions at DDF in 2021

Our focus is very much on trying to maximise footfall and business through those retail operations currently open and eventually re-opening the rest of the retail areas when demand is sufficient to do so. We are in regular talks with Dubai Airports on this.

We are also constantly talking to our suppliers about new product launches and in particular travel retail exclusives which we know appeal to our customers. That is an ongoing review. We will continue to look at the significance of our existing promotions specially during the summer season which hopefully will see a growth in travel.

Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum, President, UAE Tennis Federation, and Naser Yousef, Secretary General, UAE Tennis Federation; together with Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, DDF; Ramesh Cidambi, COO, DDF; Salah Tahlak, Executive Vice President - Corporate Services and Tournament Director; and Sinead El Sibai, SeniorVice President - Marketing; with Garbiñe Muguruza (winner) and Barbora Krejcikova (runner-up) of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships WTA week

As owner and organiser of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, we have worked hard behind the scenes to provide the highest possible Covid-19 safety measures to host the event as safely and enjoyably as possible. This has included the establishment of the Tournament Organising committee, which has been led by our COO Ramesh Cidambi and is working along with the Dubai Sports Council and Dubai Health Authority, and adhering to the protocols put in place by the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management.

The official tournament hotel, The Jumeirah Creekside, is also following all protocols to ensure the safety of all players and officials, who effectively enter the tournament bubble once they receive their negative PCR test on arrival. There are separate walkways and entrances for those in the bubble and with the tournament being on the same site as the practice courts and the stadium, the players will find the whole experience very easy to navigate. Those in the bubble have dedicated dining facilities, training facilities and there is a dedicated outdoor gym for players.

Based on directives we received from the UAE authorities, the tournament has been run without spectators and while I know that has disappointed many of our loyal tennis fans, it is good that every match on Centre Court is shown live on Dubai Sports Channel in both English and Arabic. Fans can also keep an eye on the tournament website and social media platforms to see the latest updates.

DDF and ATP officials with Stan Wawrinka at the ATP Player Draw

Group ventures

The Irish Village continues to do well, both in Garhoud and in Studio One Hotel in Dubai Studio City. Unfortunately, the usual St. Patrick's Day celebrations will be a bit more subdued this year and will be in line with Covid-19 restrictions, but we do expect a good turnout on the day itself. Dubai Duty Free also owns The Century Village, which features six licensed restaurants in one pedestrian-friendly setting and complements the pub grub at The Irish Village on the other side of the stadium. While the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, which is also part of the Leisure Group, is the official hotel for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and has done a fantastic job safely hosting the players and officials during the tournament.

Trends in the travel retail industry

We do have some commercial projects coming up in 2021, but our main focus will be rebuilding our retail business as much as possible. We will do this by working with the airport and stakeholders to ensure that we gradually open those retail areas that are still closed including Concourse A and D (and Al Maktoum International Airport) and will be ready to open in line with the projected forecast of the airlines and Dubai International Airport. We will also continue to drive sales in the current operation, ensuring that we are offering great service at good prices, and have the latest products both in store and online. We will also continue to enhance the Home Delivery service which has given us incremental income since we launched in June 2020.

It is going to take a few years for both traffic and our retail business to return to 2019 levels. But with the successful roll out of the vaccine around the globe and the opening of travel corridors, there are reasons to be optimistic. The vaccine is the only way out of the current "stop/start" travel situation to give people a sense of safety especially when it comes to air travel. The UAE has done an excellent job on that part, having administered over 6.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses. The travel retail industry has always been resilient, we've faced major challenges over the years, but this is obviously the biggest challenge for all of us. However, given the right circumstances, I'm confident that people will be eager to travel again and to shop again, but it will take time.

St. Patrick's Day wishes

The Irish Village in Garhoud

"I wish the Irish community in the UAE a very happy St. Patrick's Day. Although the celebration is quite different this year due to the restrictions, there is still a good opportunity for everybody to foster a community spirit. Thank you to the Embassy of Ireland in the UAE and, in particular, to Ambassador Aidan Cronin on keeping Irish nationals in the region updated on development in relation to travel to Ireland and Covid-19. Also, well done to the Irish entities in Dubai and in particular the Irish Business Network (IBN), the Dubai Irish Golf Society (DIGS) and the Dubai Celts for making every effort to retain contact with the members as much as possible. Finally, I am delighted to say that as part of a global initiative of Tourism Ireland, The Irish Village in Garhoud will 'turn green' along with other Dubai landmarks to commemorate our national holiday."

Colm McLoughlin

Executive Vice Chairman and CEO

Dubai Duty Free

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