Encountering a splendidly human touch at Dubai Duty Free

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.


“Good afternoon Sir. Wow, you are someone very famous! It’s so nice to meet you.”

The greeting was as warm as it was unexpected. Meet Roland Santos Gripon, a young man from the Philippines who is today manning the Dubai Duty Free Full of Surprises and Millennium Millionaire prize draw desk.

Was this a case of mistaken identity? After all, I have been mistaken for Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas. Even once, mildly tragically, for the little old bald man in the Benny Hill television series.

“So, who am I then?” I asked (the same question I asked myself several times in the wee, small hours of this morning as the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup party at the Irish Village reached a crescendo).

“You’re Mr Moodie, Mr Martin Moodie of The Moodie Report,” replied Roland. “We know you very well.”

Identity confirmed, I chatted away to Roland. He’s been working with Dubai Duty Free for fours years and says he is “very proud to work for the world’s number one retailer”.

“We just won the Frontier Award in Cannes, Sir,” he told me. We continued our chat while he was helping me with my entries in the Millennium Million and Finest Surprise (a McLaren MP4-12C Coupe in graphite grey, which will look just the thing parked outside Moodie HQ in Brentford) drawers,

And here, I think, is an insight to Dubai Duty Free’s success that outsiders often don’t understand. The courtesy – no, make that outright friendliness – of the staff is, I believe, unrivalled in travel retail. That’s testament to the quality of the human resources department, both in its employee selection and its training.

I completed my purchases and said to the young man: “Actually you’re the famous one Roland, not me. You work for the world’s leading single airport retailer and you’re a big reason for its success.”

Roland liked that and wished me “Good luck Sir” as I bade farewell.

And here’s another thing about Dubai Duty Free. This wasn’t a one-off. Within 20 metres I was stopped by a young woman, also Filipino, called Agnes Garma, who stopped me and said: “Hello Mr Moodie.”

Agnes is Manager – Operations Support and had met me at the Dubai Duty Free 30th anniversary celebrations last year and maybe on other occasions. I was particularly delighted to learn that (like Roland) Agnes reads The Moodie Report regularly, especially, it turned out, this Blog.


“How long have you worked for Dubai Duty Free Agnes?” I asked.

“Oh Sir, a long time, 30 years!” she replied, as proud as punch.

That almost makes Agnes one of a select band of people described by Executive Vice Chairman Colm McLoughlin as ‘the pioneers’, i.e. those who have been here since day one, way back in 1983. 30 years by my reckoning makes her start date 1984, very impressive indeed. As you can see from the photo, Agnes looks far too young to have worked here for three decades.

“That’s impossible,” I said, “you are way, way too young.”

She laughed and indicated she had started as a baby. Then she revealed her age (I won’t) and indeed she had come over to Dubai in the early 80s as a hopeful young woman looking to earn a living and send money back to her family. She told me how well she has been treated all these years by the Dubai Duty Free “family” and then with great excitement informed me that she was travelling back to Manila tonight on holiday.

It is her first visit home in a year, just another example of the immense sacrifices the Overseas Foreign Workers of the Philippines (heroes and heroines to a man and women) make on behalf of their families and country. Not all are as lucky as Agnes and Roland and work for such a good employer. Many will face mistreatment, abuse (physical and pyschological) and years of abject loneliness and despair.

And I even have a third case study. As I entered the Irish Village last night, another young Filipino woman came up to me and said: “Welcome Mr Moodie, it’s nice to meet you.”

Her name was Cleotilde Valdez (below) and she had been featured in The Moodie Report’s popular Front Line column in October, which puts the spotlight on staff singled out for excellence by their employer. She was very proud indeed of this feat, and so she should be.


Cleotilde and Agnes and Roland, and all the people at Dubai Duty Free, from senior management to the newest recruit, you are, more than anything, what makes Dubai Duty Free great.

Footnote: I’m writing this from a very interim Moodie Report bureau in the amazing Emirates First Class Lounge (below) at Dubai International, my wonderful travel agent Phil Burdekin (Flight Centre) again pulling off an upgrade and securing a First Class ticket for much less than the business class fare. I’ve had to return one day early from the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup due to some unexpected business issues so I can officially reveal that I will not be the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup champion for 2014.

emirates lounge

Even if I had played in today’s second round, however, I suspect I would not have “troubled the scorers” as the euphemism goes. I played in a delightful fourball with Colm McLoughlin, one of his long-time senior managers Brendan O’Shea (now retired) and the great, great Mohammed Mounib, one of the true pioneers of travel retail, now working in the hotel industry with much success.

Given that the leader (Pernod Ricard’s Daevid Warren playing off 24) scored an unlikely 47 stableford points, any addition on day two to my humble 21 would not have (collectively) got me onto the day one leaderboard.

How is the reigning champion, our very own Dermot ‘Divot’ Davitt, ‘the housewives’ favourite’ for the tournament, faring? Not bad at all actually, with a very impressive 37 points on day one despite a heavy post-MEADFA Conference de-stressing session. That de-stress could well turn into distress today though, after reports of the Divot being seen in the nearby Dubliners Bar at 5.am with David Spillane, who lived up to his pledge to go to bed early.

The only recovery shots both will be involved with today are likely to glasses of something strong.




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