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Dubai Duty Free’s McLoughlin retires after 41 years on top

Former Aer Rianta executive helped set up operation in the emirate and has turned it into a multibillion-dollar success

It’s easy to forget that Ireland has for years been a world leader when it comes to duty-free shopping. The first such shop in the world opened in Shannon Airport in 1952, primarily to capitalise on wealthy passengers killing time while their planes were refuelled after or before crossing the Atlantic.

It’s easy to look at the success of what became a key part of the old Shannon stopover and think it was always going to succeed, but try telling people in the Ireland of 77 years ago that would be the case. It was not obvious and owed itself largely to Shannon executive Brendan O’Regan.

Now another pioneer in the space, Colm McLoughlin, is stepping down from the top job at Dubai Duty Free (DDF) after more than 50 years in the industry and 41 in charge of what is one of the biggest such businesses in the world. The 80-year-old was part of the consulting team brought in from Aer Rianta – the forerunner to the Dublin Airport Authority – to launch Dubai’s duty free operation in 1983. In the years since he arrived, DDF’s sales have increased from $20 million in 1984 to close to $2.2 billion last year.

“Longevity is a key factor in the success of Dubai Duty Free,” McLoughlin said in a statement announcing his retirement. “I am confident that Dubai Duty Free will continue to grow and I see a very bright future for the operation.”


DDF’s growth is a reflection of the growth of Dubai in general in the intervening decades, as well as the willingness of the emirate to invest in the business. Emirates Airlines launched in 1985, and as recently as 1999 Dubai International Airport handled just 11 million passengers. Last year close to 87 million passengers passed through the hub and that number may top 90 million this year.

Just as with the original duty free outlet in Shannon though, it is only in retrospect one can suggest a business was always going to succeed. Ballinasloe native McLoughlin and his team built a multibillion-euro business effectively from the ground up. There is little doubt his retirement is well-earned.