DDF predicts next year’s sales to reach ‘a third or half’ of the $2bn 2019 total

By Andrew Pentol |

Spend per passenger is extremely high at Dubai International Airport, according to Ramesh Cidambi, Chief Operating Officer, Dubai Duty Free. 

Dubai Duty Free (DDF) is predicting 2021 sales to reach one third or half of last year’s total which was in excess of $2 billion.

The forecast was made by Ramesh Cidambi, Chief Operating Officer, Dubai Duty Free during the first Middle East and Africa Duty Free Association virtual event, which took place earlier this week.

Cidambi, who also spoke in the keynote session as part of the TRMarketplace webinar and workshop programme last week, expects sales to reach last year’s levels in 2023 or 2024.

In terms of passenger number predictions, Cidambi said: “Next year, the range of forecasts in terms of passenger volume is quite broad.

“Passenger numbers could be as low as one third of last year’s total of 88 million, meaning the number could be as low as 30 million or 32 million. It could also be as high as half of last year’s total and end up at 45 million or 47 million.”

He added: “We think we will finish somewhere between the low forecast and best forecast with 30 million to 45 million passengers in 2021. I also think our business will be somewhere in the middle [of last year’s total].”


Moving forward, DDF will monitor spend per passenger at Dubai International Airport which is very high. In September, for example, spend per passenger rose 70% compared to the same month last year. Penetration was also up 20%.

Dubai Duty Free implemented a number of store modifications before re-opening outlets at Dubai International Airport on 3 June.

“We don’t think this is sustainable,” Cidambi (pictured below) remarked. “Spend per passenger is very high because there is a lot of repatriation traffic and the interaction between passengers and customers is extremely good.

“This is because of the small number of passengers and the fact they feel very safe shopping in our stores because of the changes we have made.”

Elaborating on the modifications to the stores before they re-opened on 3 June, Cidambi recalled: “We determined everything we needed to do in May, implemented everything and re-opened the shops in June. We looked at elements such as floor management and the changes we made operationally and presented everything in a presentation to the national authorities.”

In order to obtain some key learnings following the modifications, DDF undertook an analysis of its Concourse B perfumes and cosmetics shops between 07:30am and 08:30am on 16 September.

The period 08:00 to 11:00 was identified as the busiest period for flight departures from Concourse B and Concourse C.

Individual team members monitored the number of shoppers entering and exiting each outlet and the number and duration of interactions between staff and shoppers during each five-minute period. They also took a snapshot of the location of staff and shoppers at five-minute intervals and analysed what was happening.

Cidambi said: “We knew that the capacity (staff and shoppers) in the smaller perfume and cosmetics shop was 50 people (based on a ratio of one person per 10sq m). Capacity (staff and shoppers) in the larger store was 70 people (also based on a ration of one person per 10sq m).”

The peak population in the smaller store (Concourse B Unit 5) was no more than 23 people at any point and no higher than 41 people in the larger outlet. This meant there was sufficient room for more people to enter the store, shop safely and follow the safety protocol.

“In the bigger shop (Concourse B Unit 12) we had spare capacity of 70% and were able to convert a lot of them into customers. This tells us we can maintain the safety protocol and continue to have more shoppers in the store as passenger numbers increase.”


A total of 24 people entered the small shop and 77 visited the large store, between 07:30 and 08:30 on 16 September and there was strong engagement with sales staff.

“Most of them interacted with sales staff and 35 of the 77 visitors to the large shop were converted into buyers. The average transaction time in this store was three minutes. At no point in time did the number of passengers exceed the number of staff in the bigger outlet,” Cidambi emphasised.

On conclusion of the analysis, DDF realised it can manage the business amid the Covid-19 protocols and capacity restrictions, as long as it adopts a policy where 70% of store capacity is for passengers and 30% for staff.

An analysis of Dubai Duty Free’s Concourse B perfumes and cosmetics shops took place between 07:30am and 08:30am on 16 September.

“Within that 30% [dedicated to staff], 70% is dedicated to brand ambassadors and 30% to other sales staff. If you stick to that formula, you can manage the business and give customers a very good experience.”

Responding to a question from TRBusiness on the importance of brand ambassadors, Cidambi said it was important to maintain capacity in shops and create a comfortable environment where they do not appear crowded.

He explained: “Let’s say the largest Concourse B perfumes and cosmetics shop has a capacity of 60 people for now. Before the crisis, we had more than 60 brand ambassadors in the shop. We then had our regular sales staff and passengers. It was an absolute mess.

“We need to be careful in terms of how we position these brand ambassadors and think carefully about implementing mono-brand ambassadors who only look after one brand.”

The peak population in the smaller Concourse B perfumes and cosmetics store was no more than 23 people at any point during the analysis. Source Dubai Duty Free

Ensuring an appropriate mix of brand ambassadors and regular sales staff and better managing the customer experience is vital. “This will ensure we have the high conversion and spend per passenger rates we are experiencing now.”

The number of brand ambassadors per shop is unlikely to return to what it was in 2019, indicated Cidambi. “We need moderation and balance as far as brand ambassadors are concerned,” he concluded.








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