Dubai Airports continues on sustainability journey

By Andrew Pentol |


Dubai Airports is preparing to implement a self-imposed ban on single-use plastics.

Dubai Airports will move a step closer to securing Airport Carbon Accreditation from Airports Council International (ACI) when its self-imposed ban on single-use plastics at Dubai International (DXB) and Al Maktoum Airport (DWC) is implemented on 1 January 2020.

As emphasised earlier this week (9 December), the phased approach will result in plastic cutlery, drinking straws, take-away food packaging and polythene bags removed from cafés, restaurants and shops. During the next year, additional products will be replaced in customer spaces and behind the scenes.

Currently, Dubai Airports is at stage three (Optimisation — Third Party Engagement in carbon footprint reduction) of the Airports Council International Airport Carbon Accreditation process.

Eugene Barry, Executive Vice President, Commercial, Dubai Airports told TRBusiness during a recent interview at the 2019 Middle East and Africa Conference in Muscat, Oman: “We have announced the ban of single-use plastics from 1 January 2020 and everyone is behind this. We are just responding to what is important to people and travellers these days.

“Every business wants to be responsible and travellers want to do business with businesses that are responsible. We are taking the lead there as well.”


In addition to continuing on its sustainability journey, Dubai Airports has been working towards the introduction of a ‘world class’ e-commerce solution for retail and food and hospitality services across DXB.


Passenger traffic at Dubai World Central reached 1.3 million for the first nine months of the year.

In September, three tenders were announced, one for design (look and feel), the second for an e-commerce partner (the mechanics around the concept) and the third for a fulfilment partner (delivery). Barry said: “We expect to make our decision on all three tenders by the end of the month and to start building in January. The aim is to go live in April 2020.”

Elaborating on the function of the concept, Dubai Airports’ intention is to integrate all existing retail, food and beverage and hospitality partners on the platform and use the Wi-Fi landing page as the ‘front door’ of the airport.

Barry explained: “Today, we have invested a lot of money in our Wi-Fi product. It is free and we have a very good commercial model for it, making it viable for us to invest. We don’t sell advertising or monetise it any way and it is extremely fast and reliable.”

He added: “We have tested a lot of things on it including live-streaming and video. It is extremely robust. We know it has the capacity to do a whole lot more than what it is doing now.”

With around 250,000 people a day passing through DXB, many of whom connected to the Wi-Fi, making the most of a ‘good captive’ audience is priority.

“Currently, when people click and connect to the Wi-Fi, they are taken to the corporate website. We are going to skip that and take them to our new e-commerce page. Travellers will then have the option to decide if they want to shop, eat or relax and listen, for example.

“If they click shop, they will be taken to Dubai Duty Free’s online shopping solution and if it is food they are after, they will be directed to an eating solution. The idea is to bring together what we have in one space. Let’s see how it goes,” Barry enthused.

Dubai Airports re-brand

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai (left); Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (middle); and His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, joined key industry stakeholders and VIPs of Dubai’s aviation industry at the lavish launch of DXB’s new brand earlier this year.

With the 2020 Chinese New Year the horizon (25 January 2020), Dubai Airports believes more can be done to accommodate the needs of high-spending Chinese consumers.

“This year, for example, Dubai Duty Free and ourselves partnered with Alipay to create a Chinese New Year campaign inside the airport. Dubai Duty Free like all of our partners embraced this in a big way and partnerships like this are a good starting point in terms of understanding the market.”


Currently, five dedicated Chinese carriers including China Eastern Airlines and Sichuan Airlines fly to China from DXB, in addition to Emirates Airlines. Barry remarked: “We fly to 13 cities in China and are investing more in products inside the airport in terms of retail, food, language (digital menus) and things like this. We are only scratching the surface at the moment.

Despite concerns over the Chinese economy, Barry said there “was still massive a massive amount of growth to come from what we have today.”

He added: “We have a close relationship with the Chinese carriers and the Chinese Consul General in Dubai who is very supportive of our business. I don’t think we are concerned about 2020, because we are not capitalising on what we have yet. There is still potential for growth.”

In terms of its partnership with Dubai Duty Free and other tenants at DXB and DWC, Barry said the appointment of people with commercial backgrounds helped create strong alliances.


Right to left: Dubai Airports’ Executive Vice President, Commercial, Eugene Barry, Dubai Airports’ CEO Paul Griffiths, Lei Jin, Economic and Commercial Counsellor and Weiyun Deng, Consular Attache from the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Dubai and Li Wang, Director EMEA Ant Financial, Alibaba during this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations.

He explained: “Airports have generally hired people who come from the commercial business. I have worked for Aer Rianta International, Dubai Duty Free and DFS Group and worked in that industry 15 years before I moved into airports, where I have also been for 10 years.

“This is happening around the world. You see airport management companies hiring people from industries who have a better understanding of what retailers expect and want. They are, therefore, much more sympathetic and supportive.

“We understand our commercial partners are an essential part of our business. We have an obligation and responsibility to make them successful.”

Reflecting on the relationship with Dubai Duty Free which spans many years, Barry said: “Dubai Duty Free is embedded as part of our organisation. It is an in-house business, so we have a very close relationship.”

Speaking on day one of the MEADFA conference, Ramesh Cidambi, Chief Operating Officer, Dubai Duty Free mentioned the ‘shadow boxing’ which sometimes ensues between the retailer and Dubai Airports.


Barry explained: “Ramesh mentioned ‘shadow boxing’, which means we do not always have to agree on things, but we certainly have healthy conversations and understand each other. This is very important as it keeps things moving.”

He continued: “Space planning, future strategies and new initiatives are the important areas we work together on. People may not notice this on the outside, but behind the scenes there is a lot of interaction.”

Reflecting on what has been a challenging year to say the least, Barry is optimistic about the final outcome, despite Cidambi admitting Dubai Duty Free is hoping to finish 2019 ‘just ahead of the water’ in terms of business performance.

“Ramesh is looking at things through the eyes of one single business which is retail. We have a different view as we manage aeronautical and non-aeronautical business. I think aeronautical is tough because we are transitioning right now. On the non-aeronautical side, we are investing a lot in consumer businesses outside retail such as car parking, advertising, food and hospitality. We have seen growth, but are investing.

“Overall performance will be positive and ahead of last year, but it is a tough market out there. There is no doubt about it.”


Dubai Airports has a strong and long-standing partnership with Dubai Duty Free.

Regardless of how things transpire, one major highlight for Dubai Airports in 2019 was the unveiling of the new brand for DXB in February. This signified the transition from airport operator to consumer-led company.

“In the midst of everything we were doing, it was always our plan to roll out the new brand for Dubai International. On the night of the launch our CEO stood up and made a commitment to everybody that we were going to transform the experience of millions of customers in the airport.

“All our work going on in the terminals with retail, food, hospitality and entertainment is coming from that value proposition,” he concluded.

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