DXB defends ACI top spot as DDF announces new management  

By Benedict Evans |

DDF notched all-time record sales of Dhs7.885 billion/US$2.16 billion in 2023 in its 40th year. Pictured is the shopping complex in Concourse C.

In the weeks following Dubai International securing the title of world’s busiest airport for international passengers, news broke of a changing of the guard at Dubai Duty Free, with industry legend Colm McLoughlin retiring and Ramesh Cidambi ascending to Managing Director.

It has been quite a comeback for Dubai International Airport (DXB). Passenger traffic volumes notched 87 million in 2023, surpassing the 86.3m recorded in 2019 but falling just short of the record 89.1m haul in 2018. The recovery surge in traffic among its major markets such as India, the UK and UAE has certainly proved advantageous.

The airport picked up the gong of ‘World’s Busiest International Airport’ courtesy of ACI World – used as the basis to rank airports within this report – for the 10th year in a row in April. Netting 86,994,365 international passengers, to be exact, represented growth of +32% on the 2022 result, according to the data.

DWC transition timeline

The broader context is important; close to 8.5 billion global travellers made trips in 2023, according to ACI World’s total passenger traffic forecast – a 94% recovery from the pre-pandemic level.

This was fuelled chiefly by the international segment (90.4% recovery on 2019), though interestingly DXB itself jumped from fifth to second place year-on-year in the total passenger traffic ranking, surpassing Dallas/ Fort Worth International Airport. And there’s more to come in Dubai.

Paul Griffiths, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Airports, called the recently approved Dhs128 billion/US$35 billion phase two expansion of Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) as another “bold step” in the growth of Dubai’s aviation infrastructure.

Dubai’s ruler recently approved designs for the new terminal situated in Jebel Ali, with operations at DXB set to transition to DWC in the next 10 years. In the meantime, DXB will remain Dubai’s primary hub, capable of handling 100 million passengers over the coming years. 

An artist’s impression of the phase two expansion project of Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). Photo: Dubai Airports.

Cidambi touched on lingering concerns over passenger numbers from certain key regions:

“Currently we are flat compared to 2023 against increasing passenger numbers. The passenger numbers are in the high single-digit in terms of increase, but the revenue is the same. That lag concerns us and some of the important markets – Russia, Indian sub-continent… are negative in comparison to last year. China is positive in comparison to last year, but lagging behind the recovery of passenger numbers.”

Cidambi also spoke exclusively with TRBusiness for the June/July Issue, which can be viewed below.

Changing of the guard

As reported on TRBusiness.com in May, duty free and travel retail industry legend and pioneer Colm McLoughlin stood down as Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of DDF on 31 May.

In a dual announcement, effective 1 June, Chief Operating Officer Ramesh Cidambi is named Managing Director of Dubai Duty Free, reporting directly to H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, while current Joint Chief Operating Officer Salah Tahlak is DDF’s new Deputy Managing Director.

Q124 in the books

Returning to more immediate performance metrics, the recent Q1 passenger traffic results for DXB announced in late May reveals the airport’s busiest quarter in its history, with 23,052,060 passengers passing through the terminals – up 8.4% year-on-year. January notched the highest monthly return at 7.9m passengers.

India continued to be DXB’s top destination country (3.1m pax), followed by Saudi Arabia (2m), the UK (1.5m) and Pakistan (1.1m).

Electronics ranked among the top five categories for sales at DDF in 2023, while the beauty category led the pack for DDF in 2023 with perfume sales hitting Dhs1.366 billion/US$374 million. 

Other leading destinations included the US (836,000), Russia (725,000), and Germany (728,000).

London was among the highest ranked cities (961,000), alongside Riyadh (795,000), Jeddah (669,000), and Mumbai with (637,000).

“As Dubai emerges as a global leader for attracting talent, businesses, and tourists from across the globe, our focus remains on sustaining growth momentum and enhancing the overall airport experience for every guest passing through our terminals,” noted Griffiths.

For more comment and analysis on Middle Eastern retailers and operators, watch out for the full report in the June ACI Top 10 Airports edition of TRBusiness, available in digital format shortly.

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