Shoppers at Dubai International Airport took advantage of a three-day discount event of 25% off a range of merchandise from retailer Dubai Duty Free, helping it to rake in $29.4 million.

The promotion—which ran from December 18-20 in celebration of the company’s 39th anniversary—generated sales that were 23% higher than for the same event last year. However, the figure remains significantly down on pre-pandemic 2019 reflecting continued lower footfall at Dubai International, one of the world’s most important hubs, as well as possible belt tightening by traveling consumers.

The December 2021 promotion, which was also extended to home delivery and click-and-collect customers, resulted in sales of $23.9 million, and the year before, in the middle of the Covid crisis, they had slumped almost $20 million. In 2019, total sales for the three-day price-off reached $57.4 million, almost double the takings this year.

The 72-hour anniversary sale also includes Al Maktoum International airport in the south of Dubai, but the vast bulk of transactions come from Dubai’s main airport and hub for airline Emirates. Chinese travelers, a core shopping nationality pre-pandemic, remained absent this year at Dubai International, and while Indian traveler numbers have moved ahead of 2019, their purchasing power does not compensate for the Chinese.

Commenting on this year’s promotion, Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We are very happy to have achieved such great sales over the three days and that so many travelers had the opportunity to avail of the special discount.”

Traffic is back, retail sales are taking longer

Traffic at Dubai International, the Middle East’s busiest airport, has been rising this year and the operator Dubai Airports, has forecast numbers to reach 64.3 million this year based on “the prospects of a stronger surge” in the final three months of 2022. That still leaves the airport well off the 86.4 million record of 2019.

Given that passenger numbers at the hub in the third quarter crept up to 18.5 million, the first time that quarterly traffic reached pre-pandemic levels since 2020, it is a concern that Dubai Duty Free’s anniversary promotion sales were only half of the 2019 result. Earlier in the year, the retailer had forecast that it would reach sales of $1.55 billion, well above 2021’s $976 million, though still short of 2019’s record of just over $2 billion.

It is possible that the days of revenge spending, which had boosted airport spending around the world, are over. Stats from the three-day event indicate that sales per transaction are significantly down versus pre-pandemic. This year the average transaction was $142.75 while in 2019 it was $160.10, though the lack of Chinese shoppers will also be a factor.

Prize draws pull in the punters

By category, the anniversary event was driven by perfumes with sales of more than $7 million followed by liquor with sales of $4.1 million, and then watches which attracted $2.8 million in spending. Cosmetics took the fourth spot at $2 million while ticket sales, and extraordinarily, the draw for Dubai Duty Free’s Millennium Millionaire which guarantees a $1 million prize every two to three weeks, pulled in $1.9 million making it the fifth most popular category. Each ticket costs about $278 (1,000 dirhams).

Online sales during the three-day promotion hit $2.2 million with more than 6,000 combined orders received through click-and-collect and home delivery services, as well as tickets for the Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire and Finest Surprise draws that were purchased online.

The Dubai Duty Free anniversary offer was first introduced when the airport retailer marked its 20th Anniversary in 2003 and has become a mainstay of the retailer’s promotional calendar during a traditionally very busy travel period. It is so highly anticipated that many travelers choose to travel on the specific days when the 25% discount is applied.


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