We caught up with Colm, a 7-handicapper and an ex-Captain of both the Emirates GC and the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
When did you first come to Dubai?
I came in the summer of 1983 as part of a 10- man team appointed by Aer Rianta in Irelandto set up the duty-free operation for the Dubai Government. We had six months to complete the project and we opened on December 20. I was asked to stay to head up the operation for Dubai Duty Free and agreed to a two-year contract. I am still here, as is my Deputy George Horan, and I always say that we still havenít completed what we started!
How has your business grown over the years?
The business has grown from $20m in 1984 (our first full year of operation) to $1bn this year. Equally as important is the brand that has been built up over that time and that Dubai Duty Free has been very much a part of the growth and development of Dubai from the beginning. We have been lucky to have H.H. Sheikh
Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Airports Company and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group, at the helm as he has supported the operation incredibly over the years. I recall a meeting with His Highness when
I suggested that we open an arrivals Duty Free. This was in the mid-1980ís when the rest of the world had been deliberating about arrivals sales for a long time. His Highness gave the green light and in the space of nine weeks we had a new arrivals shop up and running. Arrivals sales now account for about 8% of our total sales.
When you first arrived in Dubai, what sporting facilities were on offer?
Facilities were limited at that time. The only golf course was a sand one at the Country Club, when you took a lot of squash at the former Dubai International Hotel,
which is now Le Meridien Hotel. A lot of the socialising was done around the two everyone at that time. Now you are spoilt spend hours trying out the sports facilities in our own Aviation Club alone! The golf courses are fantastic and we have new ones opening up all of the time. The only slight down side is that you don't run into old friends in the way that you used to.
How has the use of sponsorship and events shaped the landscape and brand of Dubai?
From the start, a key aspect of Dubai Duty Freeís brief was to promote the city of Dubai to a global audience. At that time our advertising carried the strapline ĎFly Buy Dubaií and we tried to encourage transit and destination traffic. Sports and the sponsorship of key events was a way to reach an international audience and we began in earnest with the Dubai Duty Free Snooker Classic in the late 1980s. The top 16 players of the time came and we secured TV coverage in key markets such as the UK. The World Karate Championships followed in 1990 and then in 1993, we staged the first Dubai Duty Free Menís Open as part of the ATP and that is now our biggest single event, along with the Womenís WTA week, which generates over $140m worth of TV exposure.
Dubai Duty Free has been the forefront of this through your sponsorships
Yes, in addition to organising these major events, we are also a key sponsor for many sporting events in Dubai, including the Dubai Desert Classic which we have supported from the very beginning. We also organise a two-day golf tournament each year for the duty-free industry and this has now become one of the most eagerly awaited golf dates in the industry. We are also a founding sponsor of the
Dubai World Cup, the richest horse race in the world, in which we sponsor a $5m race.Further from home, we are the new title sponsor of the Irish Derby and this has created a great deal of media interest in Ireland and the UK. The promotion that we have done around this initial sponsorship year will result in a greater awareness of Dubai amongst potential visitors.