Born in Ireland, but made in Dubai. The Godfather of Dubai Duty Free, Colm McLoughlin, spoke exclusively to Golf Digest Middle East as he celebrates an illustrious 40 years in the emirate of Dubai.

Colm, your career has been one of many tales I’m sure. From growing up in Ballinasloe to here now in Dubai, it’s been quite a journey!
Indeed, it has been quite a voyage. My duty-free journey began in Ireland in 1969, at Shannon Duty Free, the birthplace of the industry. In July 1983, I moved to Dubai as part of the 10-man team from Aer Rianta (the Irish Airport Authority) at the request of the Dubai Government to set up the duty-free operation. I imagined it as a six-month project but here I am still, 40 years on. 

The face of Dubai must be a complete contrast from 40 years ago?
Dubai was a very different place back then. There was only a handful of buildings, a big roundabout, and not a great deal else. It was a tight-knit community revolving around boat trips on the Creek, piloting small planes to Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, and playing golf on sand at Dubai Country Club. Look at it all now! Now we have some of the world’s best golf courses here in the UAE.

How has the company evolved against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Dubai?
Dubai Duty Free is a success story that mirrors the trajectory of the emirate itself. From the early days we were tasked by the ruling family and in particular H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to make it the biggest and the best in the world. To this day the core objectives have remained the same; to provide world class customer service, provide a wide range of quality products and offer value for money, all within a customer-focused environment.

What in your view have been the key ingredients?
Several factors have been led by the tremendous support and encouragement that we have received from the Government of Dubai and in particular from H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Dubai Duty Free. But the biggest ingredients for Dubai Duty Free is the dedication and effort of all our staff who I believe are the best in the world and of course our customers who are made up of travellers from all over the globe.

With your vast contribution into golf here in Dubai, what would some of those highlights be?
Firstly, I would say the privilege I was given to be captain of the Emirates Golf Club (1995/1996) and the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club (2007) I’m the only person to have held both captaincies. We are also extremely proud to be supporting major golf events in Dubai since their inception, the Dubai Desert Classic, the Dubai Moonlight Classic, the Race to Dubai and of course now into it’s 30th year, the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup.

How special was it previously be to be title sponsor for the Irish Open on the then European Tour?
We are proud that our support as the title sponsor of the tournament for seven years has greatly helped restore the status of this major sporting event. And while it is currently under a new title sponsor, Horizon Irish Open, we are still here, continuing to support the event as an official partner.

There are the many other activities that Dubai Duty Free reach beyond the shops though.
The promotion of ‘Dubai Inc.’ was a core platform of our strategy from the beginning. One of the things we’ve done very well is support so many events at the highest level and all around the globe, Dubai Duty Free is effectively promoting Dubai’s sporting, leisure, and business facilities, which are second to none.

What has your time in Dubai with Dubai Duty Free taught you?
So far, I am most proud of the fact that Dubai Duty Free has developed a reputation for looking after its people. What is important in any work you do is to recognise the people who work for you. Wherever you are in life, do not lose touch with reality.

What will drive the next phase as the company moves into its fifth decade?
I’m very happy that Dubai Duty Free has grown to become the single biggest duty-free operation at an airport anywhere in the world. We are going to do in excess of US$2 billion this year in sales, which surpasses our pre-pandemic sales in 2019. So, if I were to forecast ten years ahead, I would be talking about US$3 billion in sales, with larger retail areas, more shops and boutiques, and around 7–8,000 staff members.

Main image: Supplied